Beginning in the weeks leading up to President Obama's meetings with Middle Eastern leaders, the administration laid the groundwork for its strong position against Israeli settlements, marking a break from the soft-gloved approach of years past. And this week, tensions have increased between Obama and the new Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following their meeting last week when Obama said, "there is a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements; that settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward," the AP reports.
Netanyahu's frustration with the Obama administration's demands was made apparent Wednesday when, according to Foreign Policy, he vented to a confidante the question: "What the hell do they want from me?"
According to the Woodrow Wilson Center's Aaron David Miller, speaking to McClatchy, Obama's intransigence and direct rhetoric on the contentious settlements issue is risky policy. From McClatchy:
"What we're seeing from the Obama administration is an uncharacteristically tough policy on settlements without a corresponding detailed strategy to justify it. It looks like a significant fight with the Israelis,"
"They've essentially issued an ultimatum to Israel . It's a game of chicken, an Obama-Netanyahu game of chicken."
The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl, in his Friday column, discusses the intractability of the Israeli-Arab peace process as a "waiting game" where both sides refuse to budge until the other makes the first concessionary move. As Diehl points out, Obama's unprecedentedly tough approach to Israel -- which Miller describes as risky and incomplete -- is an attempt to break this impasse. From Diehl:
Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel. He has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud. "The Americans are the leaders of the world," Abbas told me and Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. "They can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, 'You have to comply with the conditions.'"