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OPINION: Obama turned Israel's gaffe into a crisis

Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post.

Why did President Barack Obama choose to turn a gaffe into a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations?

And a gaffe it was: the announcement of a housing expansion in a Jewish neighborhood in north Jerusalem. The timing could not have been worse: Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, Jerusalem is a touchy subject, and you don't bring up touchy subjects that might embarrass an honored guest.

But it was no more than a gaffe. It was certainly not a policy change - let alone a betrayal. The neighborhood is in Jerusalem, and the 2009 Netanyahu-Obama agreement was for a 10-month freeze on West Bank settlements excluding Jerusalem. Nor was the offense intentional. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not know about this move - step four in a seven-step approval process for construction that, at best, will not even start for two to three years.

Nonetheless, the prime minister is responsible. He apologized to Biden for the embarrassment. When Biden left Israel on March 11, the apology appeared accepted and the issue resolved.

The next day, however, the administration went nuclear. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Netanyahu to deliver a hostile message that the Biden incident had created an unprecedented crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations. Clinton's spokesman then publicly announced that Israel was now required to show in word and in deed its seriousness about peace.

Israel? Israelis have been looking for peace - literally dying for peace - since 1947. Israel made peace offers in 1967, 1978 and in the 1993 Oslo peace accords. Clinton's own husband testifies to the remarkably courageous peace offer made by Ehud Barak at the 2000 Camp David talks. Yasser Arafat rejected it. In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered generous terms to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Refused again.

In these long and bloody 63 years, the Palestinians have not once accepted an Israeli offer of permanent peace, or ever countered with anything short of terms that would destroy Israel. They insist instead on a "peace process" - now in its 17th post-Oslo year and still offering no credible Palestinian pledge of ultimate coexistence with a Jewish state - the point of which is to extract pre-emptive Israeli concessions before negotiations for a real peace have even begun.

Under Obama, Netanyahu agreed to commit his center-right coalition to acceptance of a Palestinian state; took down dozens of anti-terror roadblocks and checkpoints to ease life for the Palestinians; assisted West Bank economic development; and agreed to the West Bank construction moratorium. What reciprocal gesture, let alone concession, has Abbas made during the Obama presidency? Not one.

Indeed, Abbas has refused even to resume direct negotiations with Israel. That's why the Obama administration has to resort to "proximity talks" - a procedure that sets us back 35 years.

And the administration now demands that Israel show its seriousness about peace?

So why this astonishing one-sidedness? Because Obama likes appeasing enemies while beating up on allies? Because he wants to bring down the current Israeli coalition government?

Maybe it's because Obama fancies himself the historic redeemer whose irresistible charisma will heal the breach between the post-imperial West and the Muslim world - and who has little patience for this pesky Jewish state that brazenly insists on its right to exist, and even more brazenly on permitting Jews to live in its own ancient, historical and now present capital.

Who knows? Perhaps we should ask those Obama acolytes who assured the 63 percent of Americans who support Israel about candidate Obama's abiding commitment to it.


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