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U.S.-Israel Impasse Over Settlements Reveals a Sharp Split in American Jewish Opinion

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2010

When Israel announced the approval of 1,600 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, a suburb in East (Palestinian) Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, Mr. Biden took the an-nouncement as a gratuitous insult.  
The Israelis have come under sharp criticism. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (March 14, 2010) wrote that Vice President Biden “should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: ‘Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality: Call us when you’re serious. We need to focus on building our country.”  
The Forward (March 26, 2010) notes that, “A new element has been introduced to the bilateral relationship: the question of whether Israeli policies adversely affect American strategic interests in the region ... On March 13, a blogger on the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine reported on a Power-Point briefing provided in January by aides to General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, to Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The briefing in the words of the blogger, Mark Perry ... said that Arab leaders believe America cannot ‘stand up to Israel’ and asserted that ‘Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region.”  
In a March 16 hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Petraeus said that Israeli-Palestinian tensions “have an enormous effect on the strategic context in which we operate ... The enduring hostilities ... present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests. President Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, linked U.S. security interests and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a March 14 interview with ABC News, Axelrod said: “I do believe it is absolutely imperative ... for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult situation.” Vice President Biden was quoted by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot as stating: “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops ... who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and endangers regional peace.”  
American Jewish opinion seems to be sharply divided. Arguing that Israeli policies endanger U.S. troops, declared Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, “smacks of blaming the Jews for everything.” AIPAC declared that, “The administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines aimed at Israel.”  
At the AIPAC meeting in Washington in March, reports Dana Milbank in The Washington Post (March 23, 2010), “The crowd got ... raucous when Netanyahu ... took a shot at the Obama administration. ‘Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital’ he said. The unrepentant prime minister nodded, waved and thanked the crowd for the extended applause. ... The audience was rather less enthusiastic as Hillary Clinton defended her criticism of Israel ... It remained quiet as she called for a settlement ‘based on the ' 67 lines with agreed swaps of territory’ ... In the audience, the majority just sat and stared at their old friend.”  
In contrast, the new Jewish lobbying group J Street urged the administration to “turn this crisis into an opportunity for progress on two states” by addressing the need to establish a border between Israel and the future Palestinian state. “Bold American leadership is needed now to turn this crisis into a real opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ...”  
Editorially The Forward (March 19, 2010) declared of the Biden visit to Israel “... this is no way to treat a guest ... As Americans, we feel insulted. Contrary to the spin generated in some quarters, the Obama administration has gone out of its way to support Israel ... Some Jews believe that all Jerusalem belongs under Israeli control, but that is a political position, not an undisputed fact. Another people also lays claim to this holy city. This is why negotiations are so desperately needed — and why expanding Ramat Shlomo by fiat ... obstructs the broader goal of a negotiated settlement.”  
Israeli-writer and Forward contributing editor Uri Dromi wrote: “The expanding settlements, instead of separating from the Palestinians while we still can, we Israelis are dooming ourselves to lose the Jewish and democratic state that was won with so much sacrifice.”

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.