State Department wrist slapping on Hebron historic designation

The AP reported today that the Obama administration is unhappy about Israel’s designation of the Cave of the Patriarchs and the tomb of Rachel as “national heritage sites,”  which comes amid a “flurry” of U.S. diplomatic activity in the region.

Pardon me while I yawn.

There may be a “flurry” of activity, but it sure doesn’t look like much more than grasping at straws as even the scaled-back, lower-level peace talks the administration now wants can’t seem to get off the ground.

The  State Department may regard the historic designation as “provocative,” but the response seems more like going through the motions than anything else.

 This is an administration that is cutting its losses after a tough first year, and looking at upcoming elections that could make things even tougher. It faces widespread discontent about the economy, a stalemated Congress and a health care initiative that badly needs to go on life support.

If the White House thought Israel and the Palestinians were both ready to make tough peace process decisions, I have little doubt they would swing into action and try to chalk up a badly needed foreign policy win.

But there’s no sign they see things shaping up that way. The last thing they want is  the appearance of failure.

So special envoy George Mitchell will keep poking around,  Vice President Joe Biden will visit the region to show the United States still cares, and the  State Department spokesman will continue to offer mild rebukes for “provocations” on both sides – all of which seems to me to be marking time until conditions – and leaders – change enough to warrant the kind of all-out push the Israeli right fears and the left craves.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in town this week for talks, mostly about Iran, and no doubt he’ll hear about Hebron and the other sites. But he probably won’t get taken out to the woodshed; the issue simply isn’t high enough on the administration’s list of priorities right now to touch off a new U.S.-Israel diplomatic tempest.

The Orthodox Union applauded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “common-sense decision to include Ma’arat HaMachpela and Kever Rachel in that plan.”

After the State Department criticism, the OU had this to say:

"It is not ‘provocative’ to invest in and rehabilitate holy/historic sites – that are open to both Jews and Muslims. Nothing PM Netanyahu has proposed precludes a peace agreement. It is provocative for the Palestinians to assert that there is no Jewish connection to these sites and for them to use this as yet another false basis for refusal to engage in peace negotiations.”

The Zionist Organization of America also praised the decision, and The Israel Project argued it  would preserve important Christian sites as well as Jewish ones.

What about groups opposed to permanent Jewish settlement in the West Bank? So far, not a peep.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.