"Obama is not 100 percent right to confront Bibi on settlements," a Clinton advisor blew back at me after my July 1 ForeignPolicy.com piece "Cut Bibi Some Slack." "He is 200 percent right!" This from a guy who had argued for years that public confrontation is not the right way to deal with Israel because it undermines the confidence that is a prerequisite for progress in the peace process.
Barack Obama himself addressed the issue in a meeting with American Jewish leaders on July 13. Asked if it were a mistake to let "sunlight" show between the United States and Israel, the U.S. president demurred, "We had no sunlight for eight years, but no progress either."
Obama's conclusion that former U.S. President George W. Bush achieved nothing by working with Israel is amazing, considering that Bush brought the father of the Israeli settler movement, Ariel Sharon, to withdraw every soldier and every settler from every square inch of Gaza in August 2005 in the largest test of the "land for peace" concept in Israeli-Palestinian history. You would think the experience of the Bush years would have led the Obama team to an opposite conclusion: If settlements had been the obstacle to peace, why did Sharon's removal of 8,000 settlers from 21 settlements lead to the rise of Hamas, thousands of Qassam rockets fired at Israel, and war instead of peace?
And they might reflect on the testimony of Elliott Abrams, who negotiated the Bush administration's compromises on the natural growth of settlements that the Obama team now disavows. "There were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank," Abrams wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "The prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation ... the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza. ... There was a bargained-for exchange. Mr. Sharon was determined to ... confront his former allies on Israel's right by abandoning the 'Greater Israel' position. ... He asked for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze."
And they should heed the words of Sharon's negotiator in that bargain, Dov Weisglass: "Final-status peace treaties ... will require many American guarantees and obligations, especially in respect to long-term security arrangements. Without these, it is doubtful whether an agreement can be reached. Yet if decision-makers in Israel ... discover, heaven forbid, that an American pledge is only valid as long as the president in question is in office, nobody will want such pledges."