The Obama administration’s announcement that attempts to extend the Israeli settlement freeze was met with an outburst of joy among Israel’s pro-settler politicians and also from an unlikely source — Democratic congressman Gary Ackerman, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia.
“I sincerely hope this decision represents a strategic shift in the Obama Administration’s approach to the Middle East,” Ackerman, who represents New York’s 5th District on Long Island, said in a statement issued hours after administration officials said they are no longer pushing for a settlement freeze.
So Obama, according to the congressman, who is a Democrat and a supporter of the President, was wrong about the settlement issue. And who had it right the whole time? According to Ackerman’s statement:
“Prime Minister Netanyahu was right. We tried going the settlements route and got nothing except Abu Mazen stuck up a tree trying to figure out how he can afford to be less Palestinian than the President of the United States.”
To be clear, Congressman Ackerman is no settlement supporter and has at times been critical of Israeli governments, including that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, because of their settlement expansion policy. At the same time, Ackerman, alongside few other Jewish Democratic lawmakers, was skeptical about Obama’s push for a freeze from its early stages and argued that insisting on a full freeze and referring to East Jerusalem as a settlement will be a non-starter.
Instead, Ackerman now suggests focusing on Iran, which he sees as the biggest Middle East problem. Here, he is once again on the same page as Netanyahu.
Other lawmakers seem to be slow in reacting to the news about failure of the freeze-for-benefit package talks. Blame it on the busy congressional schedule and the tax cut debate that overwhelmed Capitol Hill, or perhaps on the fact that not many seem able to figure out what this failure exactly means. Information, as it seems, is not readily available, since the administration, the Israeli government, and Jewish groups have yet to make clear what they think of the collapse of the settlement freeze talks.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Rep. Ackerman Cheers Obama's Shift in Peace Process