On Israeli Settlement Freeze, Public Has Obama's Back

There have been hints in the press that the Obama Administration has
been considering conditioning U.S. aid to Israel on a real freeze of
Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. There's a conventional
wisdom that suggests that doing this would touch a "third rail of
politics." But the conventional wisdom might not have been accurate;
if it once was accurate, it might not be accurate any more.

WorldPublicOpinion.org has just released a poll
showing that three-quarters of Americans oppose Israeli settlement
expansion in the West Bank. This number is up 23 points from 2002.

Even among respondents who say they sympathize with Israel more than
the Palestinians, 64% say Israel should not build settlements in the
West Bank.

Opposition to settlements is found among majorities of Democrats,
Republicans, and independents. Those who followed the issue closely
oppose settlement expansion by the same margin as those who don't.

Some may say: public opinion doesn't matter. What matters, they may
say, is that the so-called "Israel Lobby" will effectively punish any
politician who tries to shift U.S. policy towards Israel and the

But the Obama Administration has already proved that this isn't necessarily so.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The administration has asked Congress for minor changes in
U.S. law that would permit aid to continue flowing to Palestinians in
the event Hamas-backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian

Secretary of State Clinton defended the administration's position
before Congress. She noted that

the United States supports and funds the Lebanese
government, even though it includes members of Hezbollah, another
militant group on the U.S. terrorist list.

Reps. Nita Lowey and Mark Kirk objected. But as the Jewish
Telegraphic Agency

Significantly, however, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz
(D-Fla.), a pro-Israel stalwart, defended Clinton in a call organized
by the National Jewish Democratic Council to mark the first 100 days
of the Obama administration.

"The unity government itself will have embraced those principles," she
said. "The most important priority for members of Congress is to
support Israel and to move the peace process forward."

If the Obama Administration can shift U.S. policy towards engaging in
some form with Hamas, then surely it can shift policy towards moving
the U.S. from ineffective to effective implementation of its stated
policy of opposition to Israeli settlement expansion, as it is
virtually universally recognized that stopping Israeli settlement
expansion is an absolutely necessary element of achieving a two-state
solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict -- just as it is virtually
universally recognized that some form of engagement with Hamas will be
necessary to achieve a two-state solution in the long run, and to get
effective aid into Gaza in the short run.

Moreover, if the U.S. would get serious about stopping Israeli
settlement expansion, it could help fundamentally alter the political
dynamics in Israel. Israel's right-wing has grown accustomed to the
notion that Israel can indefinitely go through the motions of a "peace
process," while steadily expanding settlements in the West Bank in the
hopes of making a Palestinian state impossible. If the U.S. puts an
end to this game, it will empower the political forces in Israel who
genuinely want a two-state solution -- who, on this question, represent
the majority of the Israeli population.

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