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Friday, September 04, 2009

Netanyahu to approve 'hundreds' of units before freeze

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will approve 'hundreds' of new housing units in Judea and Samaria before implementing a 'temporary freeze' meant to satisfy the Obama administration. The new units will be in addition to the 2,500 units with respect to which President Obama has agreed not to raise objections. The US has apparently agreed to the new approvals (although the US embassy in Tel Aviv says that it 'doubts' that to be the case), although presumably the units would not be constructed until the 'settlement freeze' has ended. As you might imagine, the 'Palestinians' are seething.
It was unclear if Washington had prior knowledge of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's plan to approve hundreds of new housing units in the West Bank before considering a brief settlement freeze, but Kurt Hoyer, spokesman for the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, said it was "doubtful" the Obama administration had signed off on the decision.

Hoyer said Friday that Washington would be unlikely to accept anything "contrary to the spirit of negotiations they've been undertaking."

Meanwhile, in Paris, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Netanyahu's plan "unacceptable."

"What the Israeli government said (about the planned construction) is not useful. It is unacceptable for us. We want a freeze on all settlement construction," Abbas said after a meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The 'Palestinians' can seethe all they want, but there is very little support here for even what Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to give them. Most of the Knesset members in Netanyahu's own party plan to demonstrate against his giving them any 'settlement freeze' at all.
Amid headlines suggesting that Netanyahu has already agreed to a freeze, more than half of the Likud faction has accepted an invitation to speak at a hawkish rally at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters on Wednesday in favor of expanding settlements.

The 16 MKs to attend the event include Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, ministers Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon, Yuli Edelstein and Michael Eitan, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon has not decided whether to attend, while Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin and several other lawmakers who might have come will be abroad.

Organizer Shevah Stern said he expected Ya'alon to come, because the event meshed with his principles. He said the rally was not intended to be anti-Netanyahu, and that if the prime minister wanted to talk in favor of the settlements, he would be the event's sole speaker.

Perhaps the most surprising speaker at the event will be Shalom, who is considered a relative dove in the party but will not miss the chance to attack the prime minister. Shalom criticized Netanyahu on the settlement issue in a series of radio and TV interviews on Thursday.
It's a surprise indeed. Shalom could have ended up in Kadima four years ago, but he thought he would be elected to lead the Likud once Ariel Sharon left. He was wrong.

If you read between the lines here, it sounds like Netanyahu is pleased to have the demonstration go forward, so long as it is in favor of the 'settlements' and not a demonstration against him personally.
Another Netanyahu loyalist in the party, who is very close to the prime minister, said Netanyahu had no problem with his critics speaking in favor of settlements as long as they did not judge him without knowing what he intends to do.

"Bibi doesn't care any less about Judea and Samaria than anyone else in the Likud, but he is the only one who has the full picture on all the interests of the country, and he has to make decisions on existential matters even if he has to make decisions he doesn't want to make that he wouldn't make in a normal period," the Netanyahu loyalist said.

"It's easy to criticize when the responsibility is not on your shoulders. Prime ministers don't demonstrate. They have to make decisions."
As I noted in an earlier post, President Obama seems to have a problem handling democracies that don't do his bidding. I would not be surprised to see Prime Minister Netanyahu caught between the dictates of his coalition and those of President Obama. If Netanyahu is smart, he will use the coalition's objections to the 'freeze' to minimize its impact. That's what he seems to be doing by approving all these extra post-'freeze' housing starts up front.

What could go wrong?


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