Monday, June 29, 2009

It's Brinksmanship

When heads of state clash over big issues, the question usually becomes "who blinks first?" Jackson Diehl whines that the Obama Administration took a maximalist position when negotiating with Israel over its expansion of settlements in the Palestinian territories:
Pressuring Israel made sense, at first. The administration correctly understood that Netanyahu, a right-winger who took office with the clear intention of indefinitely postponing any Israeli-Palestinian settlement, needed to feel some public heat from Washington to change his position -- and that the show of muscle would add credibility to the administration's demands that Arab leaders offer their own gestures. But, starting with a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in May, the administration made the mistake of insisting that an Israeli settlement "freeze" -- a term the past three administrations agreed to define loosely -- must mean a total stop to all construction in the West Bank and even East Jerusalem.
Diehl complains that expecting Israel to freeze its settlements doesn't demand enough of the Palestinians (er... demands on the Palestinians are a separate issue), that it's unobtainable due to Israel's internal political issues, and that he believes it to be unnecessary. Yet (although I grant, a temporary freeze is pretty meaningless) look who's blinking first:
Israel would be open to a complete freeze of settlement building in the West Bank for three to six months as part of a broad Middle East peace endeavor that included a Palestinian agreement to negotiate an end to the conflict and confidence-building steps by major Arab nations, senior Israeli officials said Sunday.
Odds are Obama will work with that short-term freeze (or perhaps even one that's broader), and use the six months to try to build a larger deal.

Persistent criticisms of Obama from the left are that he's often reluctant to draw a line in the sand, and that he appears too eager for bipartisan solutions and is willing to negotiate pretty much anything. But as far as I can see, since he took office, there's not yet been a time when Obama drew a solid line where he turned out to be the guy who blinked. Obama doesn't pick fights unless he expects to win.

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