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Did Netanyahu’s Settlements Insult Push Obama Left on Mideast Peace?

The conventional wisdom in Washington about the U.S.-Israel spat is well expressed by this Josh Rogin post and this Ben Smith post. Basically, people think the Obama administration messed up by publicly recognizing that Prime Minister Netanyahu insulted the U.S. by moving forward with settlement expansion in East Jerusalem while Vice President Biden visited Israel last week. And maybe that’s true; after all, Netanyahu isn’t backing away from his government’s plan to build new houses for Israelis in parts of Jerusalem that the U.N. has held for 30 years do not legally belong to Israel.

But Netanyahu’s obstructionism could be pushing the administration into a more intensified phase of diplomatic effort on Mideast peacemaking, and one that benefits the Palestinians more than the Netanyahu government. According to The New York Times, the Obama team is considering putting forward its own peace plan — which would effectively dare Netanyahu to oppose it. Key graf:

After Washington condemned the housing announcement, Mr. Netanyahu apologized for its timing, but has so far not responded to American demands to rescind the building plan. The series of tense, back-channel interchanges between the two governments, in the words of one administration official, demonstrated to White House officials that “the current status quo won’t work, and won’t get us anywhere.”

As the Times points out, putting forward a peace plan creates a domestic political problem for Netanyahu, who’d have to decide “between the peace talks and the right-wing elements of his coalition” or whether to form a new government with the more centrist Kadima party, which has positioned itself much closer to the Obama administration and the peace process. For Netanyahu to side with the rightist elements of his coalition would place Israel in deeper opposition to the U.S., which is not a safe place in Israeli politics. If, on the other hand, Netanyahu opted to more fulsomely embrace both the peace process and Israel’s American patron, that would be a win-win from Obama’s perspective.

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