International Relations

A Promise is a Promise

Emily Hauser reminds us why the White House likely won't touch the Israel-Palestine issue between now and November.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel yesterday in an effort “to re-energize moribund Mideast peace efforts,” as the Associated Press puts it.

So naturally, news emerged on the very day that she arrived that Israel has taken steps to bolster settlements:

The Israeli government has quietly agreed to grant subsidies to build more than 500 new homes in the West Bank, backtracking from a promise earlier this year to deny these incentives to the settlements, The Associated Press has learned.


Because this is what Israel does. High-profile US-Israel meetings get underway, and boom: Settlement expansion!

Just like when President Peres flew to Washington last year to meet with President Obama.

And when Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the US a few months prior to that.

And when Vice President Biden went to Israel some months prior to that.

And on and on and on.

Yet successive American administrations seem pretty ok with frequent and very public face-slappings. Sure, Biden shook a rhetorical finger at Israel back in the day, as has Obama, as will (no doubt) Clinton. But actual consequences for repeatedly dissing Israel’s single greatest supporter? Perish the thought. The only President to ever turn words into action on this front was George HW Bush, and that was a long time ago.

It’s frankly baffling to me. Why does America put so little stock in its allies actually keeping their word? Does Israel have something on America? Did it give America a wedgie once? Does it have pics of America holding a bong? Has it squirreled away far-reaching evidence of American involvement in extra-judicial deaths and cocaine-fueled jungle battles in Latin America? What?

Of course the timing on each of the aforementioned events could be unintentional – after all, Israel has pretty much never done anything but go back on its word regarding settlements, whether it be promises given at a press conference with the UN Secretary General or international agreements like the 2003 Road Map for Peace (in which Israel took upon itself to “immediately dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001... [and] freeze all settlement activity”), or the vaunted ten-month settlement “freeze” of 2010, during which Israel continued to build.

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So maybe the fact that there’s all kinds of word-going-back-on just as American officials sit down with their Israeli counterparts is coincidental. Like one might coincidentally get rained on if one steps outside during monsoon season.

On the same day that his Secretary of State arrived in the region, President Obama told ABC reporter Scott Thurman that one of his disappointments in his first term has been that “I have not been able to move the peace process forward in the Middle East the way I wanted. ”

My ears perked up a little when I heard that, because as a big supporter of this administration, I’ve been pretty disappointed by that, too.

As an Israeli, I desperately want to see a just and durable peace achieved for my people and the Palestinians; as an American, I’m frankly tired of watching administration after administration sit on its hands as Israel consistently does the very thing it’s consistently promised not to do.

I don’t expect the White House to touch the conflict between now and November. But if (as I hope) Obama is re-elected, I would suggest that should he really want to “move the peace process forward” in his second term, he might start by looking for ways to hold the Israeli government to its word.

As we say in Hebrew: A promise is a promise.