Out of the Wilderness


With Passover fresh in President Barack Obama's mind this week, he would do well to remember that 3,500 years after our liberation from Egypt, the Jewish people aren't about to willingly retreat back to the wilderness.

This is a season that inspires our historical memory, reminding us of the persistence needed — and the obstacles overcome — before our ancestors could inherit the Promised Land. But the rest of the world, it seems, has a very short memory.

In the wake of escalating tensions and an apparent snub of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Washington last week, Israel is bearing the brunt of the blame not only for the alarming discord in U.S.-Israel relations, but for a failed attempt to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Inside the White House, and in newspaper columns and editorials, Netanyahu is being depicted as the bad guy — both manipulative and untrustworthy. And Israelis are being accused of not being serious about peace.

Lost in the vitriol is the much-needed reminder that Israel has taken major risks in the past five years — withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and from southern Lebanon. But instead of peace, what the country has gotten in return has been Hamas and Hezbollah on its doorsteps, and rockets in its backyards.

The Netanyahu government, too, has taken some politically difficult steps, including a temporary freeze on settlements outside of Jerusalem. We all agree about the ill timing of the announcement of a new housing project in eastern Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden's recent visit to Israel. But enough is enough already.

The Obama administration — apparently out of frustration that its desire to move quickly on the Israeli-Palestinian front has failed — has turned the contretemps into a tempest.

By forcing Israel into a corner — and prompting further pressure from other sources, including the Arab League, the Europeans and the United Nations — he is alienating the majority of Israelis who realize that any more risks for peace must be taken with reassurances that America, at the least, has its back.

While the majority of Israelis and U.S. Jews may support the president's goal of a two-state solution, Obama must understand by now, as his predecessors did before him, that peace cannot be imposed. How can Israeli officials be expected to determine final-status issues, like Jerusalem and permanent borders, when Palestinian leaders won't sit down with them at the same table?

The public pressure on Israel is certain to backfire, even as it hardens the Palestinians' own positions, giving them license to remain idle — or worse, engage in a new spate of violence.

If the situation on the ground flares up again, Obama would share responsibility for having fanned the flames. This holiday season should be about all of us — the president included — coming out of the wilderness.


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