WASHINGTON – US President Obama has taken control over US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly since Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units in Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood during Vice President Joe Biden's visit, according to an opinion piece published in the New York Times on Thursday.
“The president is re-evaluating the tactics his administration is employing toward Israel and the entire Middle East,” said Robert Wexler, a former Democratic now leading the Center for Middle East Peace, a Washington-based nonprofit institution that is working for a peace agreement.
A strident debate is being waged within the Obama administration as to how the US should respond to the hurdles on the path to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Obama's National Securityu Advisor Gen. James Jones supports presenting an American-drafted peace place, while Dennis Ross, a senior official in the National Security Council and former US special envoy to the Middle East, opposes such a move.
Jones promoted his support of an American peace plan during a meeting with former national security advisors and Obama.
The US administration sent another signal to Israel on Wednesday night. Obama's senior advisor, David Axelrod, said during a celebration marking Israel's 62nd year of independence held at the Israeli Embassy that promoting the peace process is an American, as well as an Arab and Israeli interest.
On this backdrop, there is a growing sense that Obama is considering pushing for a solution to the Middle East dispute because of what he called "a vital national security interest of the United States" during a news conference on Tuesday.
Obama: Conflict costing us in blood and treasure
During the conference, Obama said in response to a question on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that such disputes are "costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure."
This statement passed with relatively little press attention as it got swallowed up by other statements made by the president on nuclear terrorism and the nuclear threat. However, Washington analysts claim that it makes a direct correlation between the success of US operations in the Muslim world, namely in Iraq and Afghanistan, and US support of Israel, implying that such support potentially endangers US soldiers serving in these zones.
This linkage was reflected in the testimony Gen. David H. Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, gave before Congress. He said that the Middle East conflict creates a hostile environment for US soldiers operating in the two countries, but denied in media reports that he was implying US support for Israel places US soldiers in danger.
Wexler: American lives not endangered by conflict
Despite Petraeus' denials, this notion has reverberated among Washington officials. Ynet learned that even Christian supporters of Israel have recently been asking whether it could be possible if US ties with Israel endanger soldiers' lives.
The New York Times writes that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a speech in Jerusalem three years ago that Mideast peace is an American "strategic interest" and that "the prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people.” Despite such statements, President Bush was reluctant to confront Israel.
In the same tone, Robert Wexler, who has close ties to administration officials, said, "I don’t think that anybody believes American lives are endangered or materially affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
“That’s an oversimplification. However, you’d have to have blinders on not to recognize that there are issues in one arena that affect other arenas,” Wexler said.