When I visited Israel in late October, not long before the latest visits of U.S. envoy George Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israelis of all political hues confessed that they were amazed, perplexed, and confused by the policy those two diplomats and President Obama are following.
First came an instant attitude of hostility on the part of the Obama administration toward Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, even before he had taken office on March 31 and despite his efforts to create a centrist coalition. Second came its obsession with a "settlement freeze," which in fact was a demand for something that no Israeli prime minister of any party could possibly agree to - a complete and immediate freeze on construction not only in every settlement (including those Israel will obviously keep in any final-status agreement) but also in Israel's capital, Jerusalem. Third came the demand that Arab states reach out to Israel, a demand that the president himself delivered to the king of Saudi Arabia in a visit there in June and that, predictably, was rejected immediately.
Fourth came the administration's handling of the Palestinian leadership, which it pulled out onto the "settlement freeze" limb - for how could any Palestinian leader be less insistent on a total freeze than the Americans were? This meant that when the Obama team faced reality and dropped the freeze demand in favor of a call for "restraint," the Palestinians out on that limb were simply sawed off.