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Mideast Strategic Perversity

Israel’s moratorium on building in the West Bank settlements began in November of last year. It was aimed at demonstrating Israeli willingness to compromise and enticing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas into peace talks, as fervently desired by Obama. The moratorium was a major and precarious concession because the West Bank is disputed territory to which both the Israeli and Palestinian sides stake a claim. Halting Israeli construction there while Palestinian construction continued apace gave a message that was prejudicial and possibly harmful to Israel.

Nevertheless, Abbas continued to stonewall talks until finally -- by all accounts -- being “dragged” into them a few weeks ago by relentless U.S. and European pressure. He now, though, vows to bolt them -- unless Israel extends the building freeze. And now the Obama administration’s pressure is on Israel, to comply with Abbas’s wishes, even though the moratorium was a gratuitous concession in the first place and its extension would rock Netanyahu’s coalition and threaten its breakup.

As Iran keeps advancing toward nuclear weapons despite sanctions, Syria keeps arming with Russian backing, and their proxies Hezbollah and Hamas keep building their power in southern Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. Jerusalem should be focusing on these threats instead of facing what is in effect a U.S.-orchestrated power play to make it give up -- in the name of “peace” -- West Bank territory that is even more strategic. But the Obama administration’s penchant for being soft toward foes and tough on friends continues, and Israel is bearing the brunt of it.

In another development, Israel’s ostensible peace partner, the Palestinian Authority, has reaffirmed the death penalty for the misdeed of selling land to Israelis. Although a lower court had ruled that such sales were a “minor offense,” the PA’s prosecutor-general appealed to a higher court, which ruled that the original sentence of death was appropriate for such acts.

As noted by the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh:

In 1997, the PA announced that it would seek the death penalty for any Palestinian convicted of selling land to Jews or Israelis. ... Although the PA has thus far refrained from executing those convicted of selling land to Jews, there have been many extrajudicial killings of Palestinian suspects over the past decades.

Why would a U.S. administration regard turning this political entity -- along with Gaza, even more barbaric under Hamas -- into a sovereign state as a cardinal interest? Why would it pursue this goal obsessively to the point of relentlessly undermining a democratic ally, while showing weakness and passivity toward real threats and adversaries? These are indeed difficult questions.