Obama's Show of Strength Against Netanyahu

Obama knows after 3 months of a second settlement freeze, he would have found himself with no agreement, necessitating another exhausting bargaining session with Netanyahu.

Media whiz Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to portray the U.S. decision to end its push for an additional West Bank settlement construction freeze as another knockout blow to Barack Obama. Just a week ago, Netanyahu punched Obama in the stomach, in the form of a WikiLeaks cable about the Arabs who hate the Iranians and who don't have time left to hate the Jews. And lo and behold, on Tuesday, the leader of the free world had to surrender to a Jewish leader for whom the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah is a rock of our existence.

There will surely be more than a few people who swallow this dubious version of events, even though Netanyahu himself knows the truth is far more complex.

Obama and Netanyahu at the White House on September 1, 2010. AP

When an American president, particularly one whose ratings are approaching rock-bottom, sustains a spit in the face, he cannot permit himself to announce that it's raining. Obama doesn't intend to passively watch the earthmoving equipment at West Bank settlement construction sites. The United States, Europe and, as we have seen this week, even Argentina and Brazil, have expressed interest in the construction workers who are busy expanding such settlements as Beit El and Ofra.

Israel's position that Brazil and Argentina's recognition of a Palestinian state is a violation of the road map peace plan is seen in the rest of the world as a cheeky joke. Not everyone has forgotten that Israel has committed to honor the provision related to a total construction freeze in the settlements and to dismantle all the settlement outposts erected since March of 2001. In another few months, that date will be celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The significance of the U.S. decision to stop pushing for a moratorium, which was reported on Tuesday, is that Obama is refusing to give Netanyahu a seal of approval to build in Jerusalem. He also isn't giving out any Christmas presents if Israel is so kind as to comply with the road map and respect international law. The president also understands that after three months of a second settlement freeze, he would have found himself without any kind of agreement and facing repeated Arab demands to extend the freeze again, necessitating another exhausting bargaining session with Netanyahu.

The U.S. announcement has been in the offing for a number of days, but was held off until the hysteria over the Carmel fire died down. The Americans acceded to the entreaties of the Palestinians and their friends in the Arab states, who demanded that Obama finally announce who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.