Repeating the “settlement freeze means no babies!” canard in his column today, Charles Krauthammer adds his voice to the chorus of conservatives who have never said a bad word about the tight Israeli restrictions on growth in Palestinian neighborhoods, but who think that holding Israel to its commitments on settlements is an outrageous injustice:
Obama says he came to Cairo to tell the truth. But he uttered not a word of that. Instead, among all the bromides and lofty sentiments, he issued but one concrete declaration of new American policy: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” thus reinforcing the myth that Palestinian misery and statelessness are the fault of Israel and the settlements.
Blaming Israel and picking a fight over “natural growth” may curry favor with the Muslim “street.” But it will only induce the Arab states to do like Abbas: sit and wait for America to deliver Israel on a platter. Which makes the Obama strategy not just dishonorable but self-defeating.
So let’s get this straight: The President of the United States went to Cairo, condemned anti-Semitism, called Holocaust denial “ignorant,” told Arabs to stop demagoguing the Palestinian issue, and quoted from the Talmud, but Krauthammer insists he “uttered not a word” of the truth. Okay.
Meanwhile, for those who prefer their discussions of this issue a bit saner, ThinkProgress recently sat down for an interview with Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, to discuss the Obama administration’s initial foray into the Middle East peace process. Kurtzer said that he thought the administration had “gotten off to a terrific start, because the president, number one, made it clear that the peace process is a presidential priority.”
I asked Kurtzer about the apparent tension between President Obama and P.M. Netanyahu over the issue of settlement contruction — the Obama administration has requested a complete freeze, without exceptions, something which Netanyahu has called “unreasonable.” Kurtzer said that “as part of his establishing [the Israeli-Arab peace process] as a presidential priority, the president is talking about the need to deal honestly with issues that have not previously been dealt with as honestly they might have, and on the Israeli side settlements is the most pronounced of those issues.”
Every administration since 1967 has said to Israel not to build settlements and very few have done anything about it. And so the president is saying to Israel this is not dependent on Arab behavior, this is not dependent on reciprocity, it’s not dependent on anything else except Israeli action and therefore things have to change. I think one can be confident that the president will say the same things on the Arab side, on issues related to their behavior: violence, recognition of Israel, and other kinds of issues that have stalled progress towards reconciliation. But for an administration that’s only four months old, there’s been a lot of very serious work and some very important markers laid down.