Netanyahu Surprised to Learn that Obama Means What He Says on Settlements


As I said yesterday, I’ve been a bit surprised (in a good way!) by how tough and united the Obama administration has been in terms of pressing Israel to freeze settlement activity. Laura Rozen reports that Netanyahu’s surprised too, he was apparently expecting empty talk and loopholes:

Last night, shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists that the Obama administration “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a confidante. Referring to Clinton’s call for a settlement freeze, Netanyahu groused, “What the hell do they want from me?” […]

In the 10 days since Netanyahu and President Barack Obama held a meeting at the White House, the Obama administration has made clear in public and private meetings with Israeli officials that it intends to hold a firm line on Obama’s call to stop Israeli settlements. According to many observers in Washington and Israel, the Israeli prime minister, looking for loopholes and hidden agreements that have often existed in the past with Washington, has been flummoxed by an unusually united line that has come not just from Obama White House and the secretary of state, but also from pro-Israel congressmen and women who have come through Israel for meetings with him over Memorial Day recess. To Netanyahu’s dismay, Obama doesn’t appear to have a hidden policy. It is what he said it was. […]

It’s not just the administration that’s delivering Netanyahu that message, however. Whereas in the past Israeli leaders have sometimes eased pressure from Washington on the settlements issue by going to members of Congress, this time, observers in Washington and Israel say, key pro-Israel allies in Congress have been largely reinforcing the Obama team’s message to Netanyahu. What changed? “Members of Congress have more willing to follow the leadership of the administration … because [they] believe it is in our national security interest to move toward ending the conflict and that it is not a zero sum for Israel,” the former senior Clinton administration official said.

Good on Obama. But also good on the members of congress. It seems to me that Netanyahu has been hoping to be able to get away with defying the administration by getting congressional allies to pressure the White House, thereby causing the White House to decide that they’d rather give in than jeopardize their agenda. In part, this change in congress just reflects members of congress recognizing the realities of the situation. But I also think that the advocacy of new groups like J Street — currently running a campaign to support Obama’s position on the settlemeent issue — is helping to stiffen the spines of people with the right instincts.