I have always felt that the one American who has seriously and persistently pursued the premise that peace can only come to the Middle East by honoring the principles that mean the most to both Israelis and Palestinians has been former President Jimmy Carter. He may keep changing his tactical recommendations. However, he keeps his eye on the prize; and his premise still provides the foundation for his strategic point of view. Thus, for him the greatest threats arise when that premise is violated.
This week we saw the Obama Administration take steps towards embracing the same premise. Israeli settlement development has become a blatant dishonoring of Palestinian principles, and it was beginning to seem as if the Obama Administration would apply the same benign neglect as preceding administrations, probably because Israel puts as much force behind its lobbying guns as it does behind its armaments. Unfortunately, Israel seems to have deteriorated to a condition in which they put as much faith in lobbying as they used to put in the Ark of the Covenant; and, as was the case with the latter, they suffered a major setback for their arrogance (which their own Scripture describes as Divine punishment). Fortunately, this time around the setback may lead to a serious rethinking of the settlement policy, as a result of a move that may have undermined the usual lobbying forces.
That move, of course, was the announcement of settlement plans for Ramat Shlomo, located in East Jerusalem, that coincided with the state visit by Vice President Joseph Biden. Biden refused to take this arrogance in stride in the interest of diplomacy. Instead, he used every opportunity to deliver the message that the United States would not tolerate such counterproductive measures; and that included delivering that message while on the same stage as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ultimately, this squeezed a few apologetic remarks from Netanyahu but no sign that the policy was going to change. Meanwhile, after Biden had concluded his visit, his position was reinforced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and this morning David Axelrod was dispatched to the NBC division of the "Sabbath Day Gasbags" circuit (otherwise known as Meet the Press). To make it clear that neither Biden nor Clinton were having second thoughts about pulling any punches, Axelrod took the same position in his own remarks about the Israeli actions:
This was an affront, it was an insult but most importantly it undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region.
We have just started proximity talks, that is shuttle diplomacy, between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and for this announcement to come at that time was very destructive.
The strength of this unity of voices can be appreciated by the fact that we have heard little hue and cry from Israel's defenders to the effect that this Administration position is yet another act of latent anti-Semitism. That dog is just not going to hunt this time, just as the Ark of the Covenant could not be counted on the lead the Israelites to military victory.
One incident, of course, does not redeem the reputation of the United States as an "honest broker." However, it is still a step in the right direction. If it has created a situation in which organizations such as AIPAC will be less welcome in the lobbies of the Congressional buildings, that could well further serious moves towards peace in the Middle East. The window of opportunity may be narrow, but it can still be wide enough to reverse a status quo that has impeded that elusive goal thus far. We should watch this coming week to see whether or not this opportunity is taken seriously.