I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor
And I don’t like it very much.
–Bibi Netanyahu and children’s song
President Obama held his first meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas today. But you’d hardly know it from the pages of the N.Y. Times. In the only article concerning the meeting, the Palestinian is referred to a grand total of twice. Nothing else is mentioned about the substance of the talks between the two leaders. Is it possible that neither Abbas nor Obama said anything to each other, or that their representatives don’t want anyone to know what they did say?
Why do I get the impression that this is yet another example of the disappearing Palestinians? Why did Obama bother to have a meeting with Abbas if no one in the U.S. media has any interest in anything he thinks? Admittedly, the Israelis have done their best to render Abbas impotent and politically irrelevant, which may explain part of the reason there was so little to report from this event.
At any rate, the same article did contain lots of interesting information–about the U.S. approach to settlements. The Israelis are finding themselves like prey caught by a boa constrictor. Over time, there is less and less breathing room concerning settlements. Obama is shutting off every “out” that Israelis have been used to enjoying from previous administrations. For a peace advocate like myself, the process is a miracle to behold:
…Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brusque[ly] call[ed] on Wednesday for a complete freeze of construction in settlements on the West Bank. In expansive language that left no wiggle room, Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.”
Her comments took Israeli officials by surprise.
I should say so. The Israelis don’t like a word of it.
And this represents yet another wriggle from Bibi’s minions as they adjust to the ever constricting political environment:
Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev…[said] that “normal life” would be allowed in settlements in the occupied West Bank, using the phrase that Israel often uses to describe continued construction to accommodate population growth. Privately, Israeli officials said they were upset by the administration’s hard line.
You bet they’re upset. For over forty years, presidents have nodded and winked at Israeli settlement expansion. In 1993, at the time of Oslo there were 200,000 settlers. Now there are 400,000. I can remember back in the 1970s when Ariel Sharon spoke in oracular terms of 100,000 settlers and we thought he was out of his mind. Little did we know he was crazy like a fox.
But thank God, there will be no more winking or nodding. This administration means business. In a battle between an 18 foot boa constrictor and its prey there can be little doubt who will eventually win. Not that I mean to carry this analogy to its logical conclusion. The U.S. isn’t going to swallow and digest Israel. Rather it is going to squeeze the life out of the notion that settlements are a viable proposition for Israel. If Israelis won’t kill this notion off themselves, then Obama is going to lend a hand and drive the stake through the monster’s heart.
One element of Helene Cooper’s report disturbed me, as it represented the same old bankrupt U.S. policy first adopted by the Bush administration; and I’d thought that Obama had outgrown the failures of our previous president:
Mr. Obama congratulated Mr. Abbas for adhering to the West’s argument that he should not form a national unity government with the militant Islamist organization Hamas until Hamas forswears violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
Actually, a national unity government could be part of the solution to the problem of a fractured, impotent Palestinian polity unable to make peace with Israel. The fact that Obama insists on the same tired articulation of Hamas as a terrorist entity is disappointing. But I don’t think this is by any means the last word from the president on this subject.
Martin Indyk, that bellweather of liberal pro-Israel opinion, makes this rather remarkable (for him) statement about the souring of American Jewish attitudes towards the settlements:
“People in the American Jewish community and in Israel are sick of settlement activity. The whole zeitgeist has changed.”“People in the American Jewish community and in Israel are sick of settlement activity. The whole zeitgeist has changed.”