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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Barak and Mitchell: No agreement; UPDATE: Video added

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell met for four hours in New York on Tuesday. At the end of the meeting, a one-paragraph statement was issued.
Defense Minister Barak and Special Envoy Mitchell met for several hours in New York on June 30. They discussed the full range of issues related to Middle East peace and security and the contributions Israelis, Palestinians, their neighbors and the international community should make to this effort. Specifically, their discussions covered a wide range of measures needed to create a climate conducive to peace. These included measures on security and incitement by the Palestinians; steps by Arab states toward normalization with Israel; and, from Israel, actions on access and movement in the West Bank and on settlement activity. The discussions were constructive and will
continue soon.
What does that mean? That depends whom you ask.

In the optimist's corner, we have Haaretz, which seems to believe that an agreement between Israel and the US is just around the corner.
A senior political source said the four-hour meeting yesterday between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Mitchell in New York resulted in significant progress.

"There is no crisis and there is progress," the source said. "The conditions have matured for a meeting between Netanyahu and Mitchell, and by then Israel will have to make decisions."
Haaretz believes that Netanyahu and Mitchell will meet in two weeks and that they will reach an agreement at that time. But even Haaretz doesn't pretend to know what that agreement might say:
Asked by reporters whether Israel would declare a temporary freeze on settlement building, Barak said that "I think it's a little bit too early to predict. We are considering every positive contribution Israel can make toward the taking-off of a significant important peace effort."

Barak had traveled to the United States for a meeting with Mitchell after a stormy discussion of the "forum of six" on the issue of settlements. The forum, which includes, in addition to Netanyahu and Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and ministers Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon, did not agree to authorize a "temporary freeze" on settlement activity. [That's an understatement. We already know that Begin, Yaalon and Lieberman are all opposed to a freeze, that Netanyahu is opposed but is malleable and that even Dan Meridor implied to YNet that the US demand for a freeze violated previous agreements between Israel and the US. That leaves only Barak in favor out of the six ministers in the security cabinet. CiJ]

The scenario that received greater support was one in which construction would continue in settlements, but only in the form of adding levels to existing buildings and not by appropriating more territory.

It was not clear whether Netanyahu had instructed Barak to put forth this proposal during his meeting with Mitchell, or to advance the "temporary freeze" idea.

Meanwhile, during a briefing of European Union ambassadors in Jerusalem yesterday, Netanyahu said that every arrangement on settlements must "allow the residents to continue leading normal lives."
But the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler reports that the Obama administration has no interest in compromising with Israel.
"We have not changed our position at all," a senior administration official said yesterday after the Barak-Mitchell meeting. "Nor has the president authorized any negotiating room."
Reuters reports on an interview Ehud Barak gave to Israel Radio political correspondent Yaron Dekel on Wednesday morning, in which Barak admitted that the two sides are still divided over a 'settlement freeze.'
Barak said after talks in New York on Tuesday with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell that Israel and Washington were still divided over a settlement freeze, a step President Barack Obama has demanded to help revive peace negotiations.

"I think we are closer to something else -- to a joint understanding with the United States that the main thing that will determine the outcome of this effort is in the broad context of whether there will be a regional agreement," Barak told Israel Radio.


"I think it's clear that if an initiative gets under way for a comprehensive regional agreement that brings in other Arab countries ... the settlements don't cease to be important but they are put into the proper perspective," Barak said in the radio interview.

Western diplomats said Washington wanted Arab states to let Israel open interest sections in their countries and to give permission to Israeli civilian aircraft to pass through their airspace.

But the diplomats said Arab states were resisting U.S. pressure, demanding that Israel first completely freeze settlement activity and take other steps to bolster the Palestinians.
It is clear from the reports that there was no meeting of the minds in New York between Barak and Mitchell. And Haaretz's optimism notwithstanding, I have my doubts that there will ever be one. Israel is willing to compromise and make some kind of temporary, limited gesture on limiting 'settlement' growth even in 'settlements' that it plans to keep in any final status agreement. I believe that our government is making a mistake by agreeing to any kind of 'temporary' arrangement - because Obama will pocket the concession and ask for more - but there appears to be a lot of wavering over the pressure coming from the US.

The US might be willing to compromise if Congress exerts pressure on the White House and the State Department. So far, Congress (including the Republicans) has sat on the sidelines and watched the show. It has criticized the emphasis on the 'settlements,' but not the substance of the White House's demand. If Congress gets involved, the Obama administration might be pressured to compromise. On the other hand, it might not.

The Israeli government will not do what the Obama administration is demanding as of this moment (a full freeze), because Netanyahu's government could not survive doing it and because an overwhelming majority of Israelis are opposed to a full freeze, especially in Jerusalem!

On the other hand, if anything less than a full freeze is agreed to by Israel and the US, the 'Palestinians' won't come to the table (they may not come to the table even if Israel agrees to a full freeze). They're just waiting for the Obama administration to impose their demands on Israel.

Peace? Don't expect it anytime soon.


Here's a FoxNews interview with Ehud Barak. Let's go to the videotape.


At 7:15 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel doesn't know what it is going to get in exchange for a freeze. The Arabs have not indicated they're willing to reciprocate an Israeli move. But the biggest objection to a freeze isn't that the Arabs won't do nothing; its that it abridges and limits a fundamental Jewish right to settle anywhere in Eretz Israel. There is no good reason for the Israeli government to agree to a limitation imposed exclusively on its own citizens. No one has offered a convincing explanation as to why one would even work.

At 4:16 AM, Blogger APOM101 said...

I agree with NormanF that we should not be happy about Israel making concessions on settlements, but I do believe that Israel is going to play their cards right on this one. I don't know how this happened, but Obama made a huge miscalculation: There is no parliamentary make up in Israel that could have possibly threatened Bibi's coalition, at least not on the settlement issue, therefore the idea that they could pressure him politically into concessions on settlements was a complete non-starter. Obama's people should have known that from the very beginning. Now they have a lot of explaining to do to their new Arab and Muslim friends around the world. I trust that good friend Israel will do their best to help Obama out of this mess though... although that might come at a price!


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