Broward News

On Israel, Wexler Walks Tightrope

Few politicians had as much stake during Barack Obama's speech today in Cairo, than Palm Beach County-based U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, an early supporter of the president's 2008 campaign and whose efforts to convince Jewish voters to cast votes for Obama helped deliver Florida to the Democrats.

Wexler has tried to cast an optimistic light on the relationship between Obama's administration and that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite evidence of growing friction. Following Netanyahu's visit to Washington D.C. last month, Obama asked for a freeze of Jewish settlements along the border of Palestinian territories -- a call he repeated in his speech today. Thus far, Netanyahu has refused to give that guarantee.

In what appears a strategy to mediate the dispute, Wexler has sought a more palatable gesture of U.S.-Israeli cooperation. An excerpt from an article this week on

Wexler, an early Obama ally and a staunch defender of his Middle East policy, said in his view, the settlement freeze should apply only to settlements outside Israel's security fence, or wall, and should exclude territory that appears likely to ultimately remain part of Israel.

"To expect Israel to have the same policy outside the security fence as inside the security fence is unrealistic; it's counterproductive," he said. "I don't think [the administration's] public statements have been specific enough" to resolve the question of whether they were referring to all settlements or only settlements outside the barrier, Wexler said.

So even if this quote has been ridiculed by some on the right, Wexler's tried to give Obama some wiggle room, if the president wants it. But for Wexler himself, the question is how long he can keep splitting hairs in hopes that the two sides will forge a compromise -- especially when his finessing of the issue is so at odds with the uncompromising tone taken recently by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Making matters worse for Wexler, there's been dissension in the Democratic ranks over this issue. Increasingly there are calls for Wexler to choose a side: Will he defect from the Obama camp and pressure the administration to abandon his demands? Or will he take the president's side and accuse his Israeli friends of being unreasonable?

Earlier this week, Wexler sounded a hopeful note in predicting that Obama's Cairo speech would please both the Arab World and Isreali interests. It's still early, but so far there's little evidence to suggest that's the case.

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Thomas Francis