The crisis in U.S.–Israeli relations that the Obama administration caused this month, in its waning days, has its roots in a huge and foolish error that President Obama made on coming to office in 2009.
Way back in late 2000, in the Clinton administration, former senator George Mitchell was asked to do a report on then-recent Israeli–Palestinian violence — on how to stop it, and how to move forward toward peace. The Mitchell Report, known formally as the Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee Report, was not completed by the time Clinton left office, but Colin Powell (entering office as secretary of state) asked Mitchell to finish and deliver it.
The report was delivered on April 30, 2001, and in it Mitchell wrote, “The GOI [Government of Israel] should freeze all settlement activity, including the ‘natural growth’ of existing settlements.” That was a very far-reaching goal. For one thing, it covered, as Mitchell interpreted the word “settlement,” construction in the West Bank, Gaza (where there were still Israeli settlements), and Jerusalem. What’s more, preventing “natural growth” meant that no one could join a settlement, and that every birth had to be matched by a death or by someone being forced to move out.