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Israel Plays with Fire

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
March 16, 2010
The Daily Beast


Israel's right-wingers are congratulating themselves on their announcement of new construction in East Jerusalem during Vice President Biden's visit last week. They think this stance, so unwelcome in Washington, this public and gratuitous insult to America's negotiating position in the region, will compel President Obama to back down. They reinforced this notion Tuesday through Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reaffirmation of the building plans-plus the insult of announcing yet additional building plans. They're very wrong. Israel's move was stupid, dangerous, and self-defeating. Worst of all, it seriously damaged Israeli-American relations and American power in the Middle East. Israeli leaders will not like the way their little power slap plays out. And it is they who should be figuring out how to make the necessary amends-and soon, before further contamination sets in.

Let me say up front that I am a strong supporter of Israel. To me, the United States' tie with the Jewish nation is both emotional and strategic. Israel is a "strategic aircraft carrier" for America in a chaotic part of the world. Washington should never cast doubt on its commitment to Israel's security. But Israel is not America's sole vital interest in this treacherous terrain. If Israelis further complicate an already complicated Middle East, it won't be good for the United States or for Israel.

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