4 June 2009 0 Comments

Obama’s speech: the view from Jerusalem

President Barack Obama spelled out what he expects of the Israeli government in his Cairo speech, issuing a challenge that most commentators here believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no way of meeting [I wrote on Global Post today].

Obama’s speech, carried live on all three main Israeli television stations, made clear his firm opposition to any sort of building in Israel’s West Bank settlements. “This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace,” Obama said. “It is time for these settlements to stop.”

The realization that Obama is serious about halting settlements has been growing in Israel since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in early March. At first Israeli politicians and diplomats thought it could be dealt with by the same sleight of hand that stymied previous administrations — Israel would agree to a freeze on settlement construction, except for “natural growth” to accommodate the children of existing settlers. In reality that meant as much building as Israel wanted.

Since Netanyahu’s visit to Washington two weeks ago, aggrieved Israeli government officials (who weren’t immediately available to comment on Obama’s speech) have complained that there were unwritten agreements with the Bush White House allowing Israel to build in the settlements, provided they pulled out of “illegal outposts” — mainly composed of a few young settlers living in shipping containers on hillsides across the valley from existing settlements.

Obama’s speech made it clear that such unwritten promises are not part of the debate. Read more….

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