Oh my! WaPo slams Obama for painting himself into a corner over a 'settlement freeze'Perhaps Jackson Diehl - who was never pro-Israel - may have had an epiphany last month when he met with 'moderate' 'Palestinian' President
This absolutist position is a loser for three reasons. First, it has allowed Palestinian and Arab leaders to withhold the steps they were asked for; they claim to be waiting for the settlement "freeze" even as they quietly savor a rare public battle between Israel and the United States. Second, the administration's objective -- whatever its merits -- is unobtainable. No Israeli government has ever agreed to an unconditional freeze, and no coalition could be assembled from the current parliament to impose one.Diehl advocates a compromise, and apparently believes that the administration is now - way too late - coming around to that view:
Finally, the extraction of a freeze from Netanyahu is, as a practical matter, unnecessary. While further settlement expansion needs to be curbed, both the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have gone along with previous U.S.-Israeli deals by which construction was to be limited to inside the periphery of settlements near Israel -- since everyone knows those areas will be annexed to Israel in a final settlement. Before the 2007 Annapolis peace conference organized by the Bush administration, Saudi Arabia and other Arab participants agreed to what one former senior official called "the Google Earth test"; if the settlements did not visibly expand, that was good enough.
The result of such posturing is that the administration now faces a choice between a protracted confrontation with Israel -- an odd adventure given the pressing challenges from Iran and in Iraq, not to mention the disarray of the Palestinian camp -- or a compromise, which might make Obama look weak and provide Arab states further cause to refuse cooperation. The White House, I'm told, still hopes Netanyahu will accept a construction moratorium, with a time limit and perhaps a waiver for some buildings under construction. But at this point some damage is probably unavoidable: If Barak and Middle East envoy George J. Mitchell agree on any formula short of that spelled out by Clinton and her spokesman, Arab media will trumpet it as an Obama cave-in.From the rumblings here in Israel over the weekend and on Monday morning, the Obama administration may already have missed the opportunity to reach a compromise with Israel. Consider the following four items:
The best course nevertheless lies in striking a quick deal with the left-leaning Barak this week under cover of the tumult in Tehran. The administration could then return to doing what it intended to do all along: press Palestinians as well as Israelis, friendly Arab governments and not-so-friendly Iranian clients such as Syria to take tangible steps toward a regional settlement. Such movement would be the perfect complement to the cause of change in Iran; how foolish it would be to squander it over a handful of Israeli apartment houses.
1. Over the weekend, I reported that Defense Minister Ehud Barak was likely to carry to Washington an offer for a three-month freeze with exceptions for buildings already under construction. I wrote that I did not believe that would satisfy Washington, and that we'd be better off not proposing it because it was a slippery slope.
On Israel Radio, about an hour and a half ago, I heard an interview with Eitan Baroshi, the Defense Minister's assistant for 'settlement affairs,' who must approve any new construction in the Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria. Baroshi denied that Barak was taking any kind of offer to Obama, claiming that the cabinet had approved nothing like what I reported this weekend. Further, Baroshi announced that his ministry had told the High Court of Justice (which is on the verge of ordering the 'evacuation' of Migron - see below) that the government had approved the construction of 50 new housing units in Adam, a small village just outside the green line, to accommodate the revenants that the government hopes to evacuate from Migron, which it terms an 'illegal outpost' (despite the fact that Migron had been approved by the government many years ago - this is not the time or place to get into that).
2. JPost reported on Monday morning that Givat Zev, which is just north of Jerusalem, across the green line, straddling Route 443, the alternate highway to Tel Aviv, will complete another 300 homes this year, raising its population by about 1,000 persons, and has approval promised from the Olmert government to start building an additional 380 homes.
3. Over the weekend, Arab media reported that Israel has decided to 'register' 13,900 hectares of land next to Maaleh Adumim, which could signal that Israel is planning to take the land for the city's expansion.
The Palestinian Al Quds newspaper published an order on Friday from the Israeli military telling Arab residents living near the massive Maale Adumim settlement outside Jerusalem to register their land within 45 days.This is apparently NOT connected with the area known as E-1, which is west of Maaleh Adumim.
On Saturday, the newspaper reported that the order concerns some 13,900 hectares of land east of Maale Adumim, near the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley.
The sparsely populated desert region is mostly inhabited by Arab Bedouin tribes, who have been expelled during previous expansions of the settlement, the boundaries of which already extend to the Jordan Valley.
4. Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) reports from the Hebrew daily Yisrael HaYom that the Netanyahu government is 'fed up' with the Obama administration's continued declarations against Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.
A senior Israeli government official said that Israel is “fed up” with American statements against Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, the Hebrew-language Yisrael HaYom (Israel Today) newspaper reported Monday.I believe what's going on here is that Israel is telling the US that if it is going to insist on playing hardball on the 'settlement freeze,' Israel can play hardball too. There is very little support for a 'settlement freeze' in the US, and my sense is that a lot of Senators and Representatives are getting very nervous about going too far in supporting Obama on this issue. Obama has overplayed his hand.
As Defense Minister Ehud Barak flies to Washington for meetings with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, the unnamed senior official stated, “Israel will demand that any compromise be part of a wider program of regional peace, and only after agreement on the basic principles outlines by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his [recent] speech at Bar-Ilan University.”
Government sources told Yisrael HaYom that during Defense Minister Barak’s visit, “The Americans will hear decisive statements regarding the possibility of freezing construction for Jews in Judea and Samaria. Israel will be prepared to listen to a freeze only if it is temporary and if the Americans will explicitly state” that it will later approve building in communities with a high concentration of Jewish residents.
Israel has stated for public consumption that good relations with the U.S. are important, but any freeze, even temporary, is likely to meet stiff opposition from Shas and Likud party ministers. Shas leader Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said, "This kind of thinking is incorrect. The discussion needs to be not only about ‘settlements’ but also about obligations of the PA.”
Maybe three months of freeze with a lot of exceptions will be the endgame after all. Most Americans aren't ready to bow to Saudi King Abdullah even if their President is. And neither are most Israelis.