There were several news stories over the last week suggesting that the Obama administration is considering some form of sanctions against Israel to punish it for “settlement construction.” One story, in the Washington Free Beacon, was typical in noting reports that the administration “is considering imposing sanctions on Israel for continuing construction on Jewish homes in Jerusalem.” Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper, headlined its story “U.S. mulls harsher action against settlement construction.”
At first glance this is all incomprehensible. Congress would never permit such sanctions against Israel and would act to block them. Moreover, Israel is about to enter an election period and such moves are always suspended or delayed until a new government is formed.
So what could possibly be the administration’s goal in “mulling” sanctions and seeing such stories appear in the press?
Simple: giving a signal to Europe. The debate is hot and heavy in Europe right now about sanctions, BDS, and recognition of a Palestinian state. There is no way for the administration to intervene in that debate on the anti-Israel side–except these news stories suggesting how angry it is at the government of Israel. That support for Israel in Congress means no such sanctions are possible would not deter the Europeans; in fact it would spur them on to do what they might believe the president would do if he only could get past the “Israel lobby.”
It’s possible that even in Europe the energy behind such moves will diminish now, as Israeli elections near. But news stories about mulling of sanctions in Washington will always give additional ideas and energy to anti-Israel forces. The White House should make it crystal clear that it is considering no such action, was never considering such action, and believes that such sanctions are wrong and harmful.