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Monday, March 15, 2010

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in the New York Daily News.

The Obama administration's hysterical response to Israel's announcement that it will continue to build new homes for its expanding population in disputed territory ought to evoke one response: Methinks thou doth protest too much.

Given that the United States is supposed to be committed to the parties determining ultimate legal ownership of the land in final status negotiations, what is going on?

The Palestinian Authority is the only side refusing to sit across the table from its interlocutor without preconditions. Recent reports indicate that Mamhoud Abbas and company are still inculcating the next generation of budding terrorists in the abc's of antisemitism, refusing to put Israel on the map in their authorized school books and fanning the flames of Islamic extremists at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - all of which is incitement and a gross violation of the Roadmap. As for Hamas, the other Palestinian authority running Gaza, it is just openly dedicated to Israel's annihilation.

None of that is preventing the Obama administration from insisting that Israel negotiate with one half of the Palestinian split personality.

In fact, the words of Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, and top advisor David Axelrod in the last few days suggest, instead, that what really concerns the human rights gurus in the White House is preserving the option of apartheid Palestine. After all, the purpose of denying the ability of a Jew to build a house on land that theoretically may one day change hands, is to ensure that a Jew-free Palestinian state can come into existence unimpeded.

This strategy is not only repugnant, it is nonsensical. Making settlements the issue will only have the predictable effect of pushing the Palestinians further away from the negotiating table.

Reading between the lines, the true explanation of the hyperbole of describing the announcement of housing plans as "insulting" - to use Clinton's word - is something else entirely: Iran. Ironically, when Vice-President Biden went before the Israeli public on March 11 and told them "The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, period," only politeness prevented Israelis from laughing out loud. Nobody believed him. Everyone knows that the UN is not going to deliver a Security Council resolution imposing serious sanctions on Iran in time to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. Every time Obama officials claim they are working on sanctions, it just reinforces the conclusion that they have absolutely no intention of doing what is necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

That leaves Israel holding the bag. And Obama - along with European countries and Australia - do not want Israel to use force against Iran's nuclear facilities regardless of the mortal threat that they pose to Israel's population. The President's only way to prevent Israel from acting - without using more overt intimidation that would reveal his having put Israel's security way down on his list of priorities and risk a backlash in Congress - is to scare Israel fast with threatened isolation on a trumped-up affront like a bunch of new houses in the desert.

Exactly the same calculation occurred with the Dubai affair and Israel's alleged assassination of one murderous Hamas mastermind. If the Europeans and Australians could manufacture enough moral outrage about forged passports in the context of the demise of a genocidal killer and the Obama White House can keep the settlement issue on the front burner, Israel will find itself on the defensive - at exactly the moment it is thinking about going on the offensive.

Will members of Congress buy the President's nonsense about Israel being the stumbling block to peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Will they place more importance on houses and living than incitement and dying? Will Jews who voted overwhelmingly for Obama now perceive this President to be the most anti-Israel sitting U.S. commander-in-chief in Israel's history? Will Israelis be sufficiently intimidated by the international blowback every time they make a move to defend themselves, or to exercise their right of self-determination, that they decide not to go it alone on Iran?

We don't yet know. What we do know is that the White House's misinformation campaign should not be the deciding factor. And we also know that for the Vice President of the United States to stand before Israelis, address the greatest immediate threat to their peace and security and misrepresent the President's willingness to do what it takes to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb - is what is really insulting.