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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Netanyahu and Obama reach a deal?

Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is meeting in London on Wednesday with US Special Middle East envoy George Mitchell amid reports that Israel and the United States are on the verge of reaching an agreement regarding a 'settlement freeze' (Hat Tip: Memeorandum). The bottom line is that Israel is going to trade a 'settlement freeze' for a purportedly tougher US line on Iran.
Key to bringing Israel on board is a promise by the US to adopt a much tougher line with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons programme. The US, along with Britain and France, is planning to push the United Nations security council to expand sanctions to include Iran's oil and gas industry, a move that could cripple its economy.

In return, the Israeli government will be expected to agree to a partial freeze on the construction of settlements in the Middle East. In the words of one official close to the negotiations: "The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not."

...

As well as a tougher US approach to Iran, which the Israelis see as their top priority, the deal would see Israel offering a temporary and partial moratorium on the expansion of settlements on the West Bank in return for moves by Arab states towards normalisation of relations. This would allow Obama to announce talks on the bigger Israeli-Palestinian issues – borders, the future of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees – with the US sitting in as a mediator.

...

Israel is offering a nine- to 12-month moratorium on settlement building that would exclude East Jerusalem and most of the 2,400 homes that Israel says work has already begun on.
If the deal is as described, it's a bad deal for Israel.

First, the concessions on Iran are too little too late. We are way past the stage where sanctions can stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. They have passed the point of no return. What's needed now is a commitment for US military action , or at least a commitment to stand aside when and if Israel takes military action. That commitment is not forthcoming.

Second, even if the United States, Britain and France agree to go to the Security Council and push for sanctions against selling refined oil products to Iran, it is doubtful that the Russians and the Chinese will go along. Both of those countries have veto powers in the Security Council. Even if the sanctions pass, there is no assurance that countries like Germany, Austria and Italy (and for that matter France), all of whom do huge amounts of business with Iran, will abide by them.

On the flip side, while Israel would maintain the principle that it will not subject building in Jerusalem to the control of others, it would cede that principle in its heartland. By agreeing to a complete freeze in Judea and Samaria, Israel would essentially be waiving the agreement that it reached with the Bush administration that it could continue to build to allow people to maintain normal lives in Judea and Samaria, or at least in the 'settlement blocs.' We would essentially be revoking President Bush's 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon (in which he committed that Israel would not be forced back to the 1949 armistice lines) with our own hands.

Further, there is no exit strategy here. We are agreeing to 9 or 12 months (when everyone other than Ehud Barak wanted 3 and even Barak only wanted 6), which is far more than Israel was willing to countenance until now. And when the 9 or 12 months (to which we can really add the period from March until September during which no housing starts have been granted) comes to an end, what happens if Obama says that we can't unfreeze construction because now there are negotiations going on? Is Israel going to be bound to continue the 'freeze'? Does anyone doubt the enormity of the pressure that the United States and Europe will place on the Israeli government not to thaw the freeze?

Finally (and I have a lot more to say on all of these issues, but this post is getting too long to read), what does it mean to say that the United States will be acting as 'mediator'? Does anyone in Israel really want Barack Obama - who is so widely mistrusted here - to act as a 'mediator' between us and the 'Palestinians'? Does anyone believe that he'll even be impartial, let alone in our favor? We already know that the 'Palestinians' have turned down far too generous deals that were offered to them by Ehud Barak through Bill Clinton and by Ehud Olmert thorugh George Bush. The 'Palestinians' expect to be offered even more and they expect Barack Obama to deliver us on a silver platter. Obama has done nothing to dampen those expectations. For example, the Americans are acting like there's going to be a meeting between Obama, Netanyahu and Abu Mazen on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in late September at which Obama will announce that negotiations are resuming (from what point?). Has anyone looked at what Abu Mazen said about that today?
Speaking on condition of anonymity because a formal meeting had not been set, the Palestinian officials stressed that Abbas was not dropping his conditions. They said that the meeting would be a chance to talk, but would not amount to negotiations.
I sense a disaster in the making.

1 Comments:

At 10:41 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Its a bad deal for Israel. What will Israel be getting for it in exchange? Inquiring minds would like to know.

 

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