Ok, I will be upfront. As I write this I am depressed about the situation. Ideology has been allowed to get the best of pragmatism, and now Israel is in the sights of a President who thinks he can accomplish anything. That was the sense President Obama projected when he took office. Though for a while the difficulties he was running into with the Health care debate seemed to diminish Obama's omnipotence, his victory on health care and his agreement today with Russia on arms control certainly restores that sense. Of course, in this case, the President is very mistaken, but that is not what is relevant at the moment.
At the moment, what is relevant is the fact that until he learns otherwise, he sees Israel, and specifically Prime Minister Netanyahu, as the obstacle to reaching a peace agreement. Its not clear if the issue is really "building in Jerusalem" or an even more problematic position for Netanyahu, the question of substantive talks. There is some sense that what the Obama administration really wants is for Israel to agree in advance to some version of the peace proposal that Olmert offered the Palestinians before leaving office, a proposal the Palestinians did not accept–– which by all accounts, was the most generous offer an Israeli prime Minister ever offered the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, both from his own beliefs, and certainly the beliefs of his fellow Likud party members and coalition partners, will find it almost impossible to agree to the US Administration's request. However, it is clear to everyone that without returning to that position there is no chance of an agreement. Mind you, I do not believe we can come to an agreement even if we reoffer Olmert's terms, but unfortunately, the world (and in this case the American administration), need to learn every few years, that ultimately it is not Israel that is the barrior to a final peace agreement.
Yes it's unfair etc. etc., but that is the reality of the situation. If the Netanyahu government does not wise up to that situation, I am not sure where we end up--- Likely, an isolated Israel with Iran having nuclear weapons. I repeat what I said last week. "Diplomacy is war by another means". If the Israeli government does not realize that (of course a government that can have Lieberman as foreign minister is clueless), then things are going to be very rough. From Netanyahu’s and the cabinets comments today it does not look good.
To add to the sense of depression, Israel lost two soldiers today inside Gaza, in the area adjacent to the border. The army was conducting, what seems to be a regular incursion inside the border, and they ended up in a close quarters fight with Palestinian armed fighters. In the fire fight the deputy commander of the Golani unit in the area (a major) was killed, as was a second soldier. To underscore the tragic nature of the event, the major’s brother, also in Golani was killed ten years ago in Lebanon.
Finally, to round out my depression, Yuval Elituzur has just written a book, loosely titled "The threat within". In the book Elituzur explains the increasingly clear demograhic trends, with 60% of the Charedim living below poverty, with only 20% of the Charedi men working. With their growth rate at 6.5% a year and the rest of the population at only 1.5% Elituzur makes it clear that at this rate, even without all the problems referenced above, Israel’s future is endangered. He at least suggests some partial solutions. Elituzur's main suggestion is to force their children to receive a basic education. It seems the new Education Law passed last year, which gave certain additional beniftis to the Charedi education system, also included the requirement that all kids up to 14 receive a basic education (with math and language standards). The only problem is that the Chardi community, like usual, took the benefits without implementing any of the requirements. How to implement this plan, even if the Charedi community is willing, seems very problematic–– since there are no teachers in the community to teach these subjects, and considering the continued rapid increase in the size of their community, it seems very hard to see to accomplish this goal.