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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Drifting apart on a 'settlement freeze'

Haaretz reports that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has asked the Netanyahu government for a 'deposit' consisting of a one-year 'settlement freeze' with which they can go back to the Arab states and seek 'confidence building measures.'

But Israel has not agreed to the deposit, and it has told the United States it will not agree to more than a six-month freeze. Moreover, as noted previously, Israel has insisted that any freeze include an 'exit strategy' that will avoid Israel getting bogged down in continuing extensions of the freeze. And while Israel apparently assumed all along that it would be allowed to complete the 2,500 housing units under construction, the United States apparently now has different ideas (via Free Republic).
American Middle East envoy George Mitchell has asked Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for a "deposit," an advance commitment of a one-year freeze on construction in West Bank settlements.

Mitchell raised the idea in his talks with Netanyahu and Barak in Israel last week. He argued that the Arab states will not make gestures toward normalization with Israel without a guarantee of an end to building in the settlements. Mitchell said an Israeli agreement to temporarily freeze construction would facilitate concessions from the Arab states.

A senior source in Jerusalem noted that while Netanyahu and Barak did not reject the request, they disagree with the Americans over some of the details.


The Americans have not yet said clearly what will happen at the end of the freeze period. Israel wants a U.S. commitment to reach new understandings with Jerusalem over future developments that would be similar to those between former president George W. Bush and former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Israel and the U.S. also disagree over the future of 2,500 housing units already under construction in the settlements. Israel wants to complete all of these homes, while Mitchell seeks to reduce the number to be completed as much as possible.

Negotiations over the issue will continue over the coming weeks. Netanyahu and Mitchell are to meet in London on August 26 for another round of talks. A highly-placed source in Jerusalem said he expected agreement on the issue at the meeting.
There are many unstated items in this description. For example, will Israel agree to suspend building in Jerusalem? I doubt it. Will it agree to suspend building in the 'settlement blocs'? It might, but that strikes me as foolish. It's time for the 'Palestinians' to accept the reality that we are not going back to the 1949 armistice lines. Allowing building in the 'settlement blocs' to continue despite a 'freeze' outside them is the best way to drive that message home.

But the Obama administration is clearly not on our side and I believe the pressure on Netanyahu will continue.

On the other hand, Ehud Barak has been under a lot of pressure from his own party to pull the government leftward (which is what he would likely do instinctively anyway), but got help on two fronts yesterday. First, the party agreed to put off its primary for the leadership (which the party constitution previously required be held within fourteen months after losing an election) to October 2012, which will give Barak some breathing room. Second, while four 'rebels' who refused to join the coalition are now talking about leaving the party, a survey released earlier this week showed that 42% of those who voted for Labor now wish they hadn't and that if elections were held today, Labor would win only six seats (as compared with its current 13). There is no incentive not to bring down the government like keeping your seat in the Knesset.

The 'freeze' is a bad idea because it's an illusion. But it seems highly doubtful that it will happen on August 26 or at any other time in the near future.


At 7:18 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel is being asked to give the Arabs something for nothing. It is wrong on principle and it is wrong even as a matter of tactical expediency. Israel should not have to abrogate her rights to get the Arabs to do what they should do all along and there is no guarantee the Arabs will reciprocate, Hence, Israel's consent to one is increasingly unlikely and America's credibility has suffered a blow with the US appearing to take the Arab side on Jerusalem and it appears to Israelis the US does not want to avoid prejudging the outcome of negotiation but to ensure there is nothing left for Israel to negotiate,

What could go wrong indeed


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