by Steven J. Rosen
U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to confront Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Israeli construction activity in
The assumption that a faceoff over construction in
Consider this: If, 17 years ago, U.S. President Bill Clinton or Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat had insisted that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin freeze all settlement construction, including in
"I explained to the president of the
The same year as the famous handshake on the White House lawn, 1993, the Rabin government completed the construction of more than 6,000 units in the Pisgat Zeev neighborhood of
So Arafat did sit down with Rabin, even while
And what was the American policy toward Rabin's construction of Jewish homes in
On Jan. 3, 1995, the State Department spokesman said mildly, in response to the Rabin government's announcement of expanded construction, "The parties themselves ... have to judge whether it presents any kind of a problem in their own dialogue. The important thing is to continue to meet." The spokesman added on Jan. 10, 1995, "We admit that settlements are a problem, but we ... enjoin the parties to deal with these issues in their negotiations."
Nor was this example of construction in
The Labor government that was elected in the wake of Netanyahu's ouster continued the pattern of building in
Here again, had Clinton taken Obama's position and issued an ultimatum demanding that all construction in Jerusalem stop, and had Arafat made that American demand a precondition to begin negotiations, the Camp David Summit of 2000 and the Taba talks in January 2001 would not have occurred.
The next Israeli government, headed by retired general Ariel Sharon, did not seek any breakthroughs in negotiations with the Palestinians. But
President George W. Bush played a key role in making
Elliott Abrams, the White House advisor who negotiated the Bush administration's compromises on the natural growth of settlement, explained the significance of the step Bush took last June in the Wall Street Journal: "There were indeed agreements between
There were expressions of unhappiness by Palestinian leaders and European diplomats about the Bush policy of giving a green light to limited construction in
Four months after the disengagement from
These negotiations produced significant results: on Sept. 16, 2008, Olmert offered Abbas 93 percent of the West Bank, partition of
The record is clear and consistent: The United States has never liked Israeli construction in
Today, for the first time in 19 years, we have an aministration unable to produce Israeli-Palestinian negotiations . Abbas is following Obama's lead in demanding an unprecedented precondition that
At this moment, Obama's decision to confront Netanyahu about construction in
Obama would do better to take the advice of his own Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, who wisely told PBS host Charlie Rose, "For the Israelis, what they're building in is in part of
Steven J. Rosen served for 23 years as foreign-policy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and was a defendant in the recently dismissed AIPAC case. He is now director of the Washington Project at the Middle East Forum.
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