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Monday, November 30, 2009

Why the 'freeze'?

I would have to guess that this is obvious to most Israelis, but for those of you abroad may find it enlightening.
One lesson Netanyahu learned from both his first term as prime minister and his time in Ariel Sharon’s government was the importance of keeping the Israeli Center behind him. He currently faces two major problems — a nonexistent peace process and a likely need to order military action against Iran — that are liable to result in widespread international condemnation, escalated anti-Israel terror, pressure for potentially dangerous concessions, and perhaps even sanctions. To withstand this, he will need solid domestic support, which means he must convince the Israeli majority that neither problem is his fault: that he truly tried to restart peace talks and thereby also spur international action on Iran, given the West’s claim that such action would be easier if peace talks were progressing.

Faced with similar circumstances — a stalled peace process, a looming Iranian threat, growing international pressure, and consequent eroding domestic support — Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. That achieved its goal: it got the Israeli Center behind him. But the price, in terms of both security and Israel’s image (as January’s Gaza war showed), was horrific.

The settlement freeze is a far smarter means of achieving the same goal. The only security risks it poses are those that stem from being perceived as easily pressured. Yet it is a concession no previous Israeli prime minister ever offered, and a substantial one: it even applies to settlement blocs that Israel wants to keep under any agreement and where even the moderate Left deems continued construction no impediment to peace.

Thus even if it fails to satisfy the Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, Netanyahu’s hope is that it will satisfy most Israelis: that when the world begins condemning Israel for the lack of progress toward peace and demanding additional, more dangerous concessions, the Israeli majority will not blame Netanyahu’s “intransigence” — after all, he has shown great flexibility — but rather the Palestinians’ unwillingness to respond to his gesture, and the world’s unwillingness to pressure them to do so instead of once again pressuring Israel. And it will therefore back him in refusing to make further concessions.
While I'm not happy with the 'freeze,' it's clear to me that's why Netanyahu did it, and I can only hope that it at least accomplishes its goals. The 'disengagement' from Gaza went completely wrong. Let's hope the 'freeze' (which is at least reversible) doesn't.


At 1:23 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

so why not freeze for 3 months or only if the arabs return to the table. Meanwhile the Kaponnheimers and JNF help build a new arab city

At 1:24 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

It might be one thing to prevent new construction. But its going too far to prevent improvements to homes, adding yards and all the accouterments of normal existence. Don't tell me that will harm a single Arab or prejudge negotiations. Its still wrong because it does more than just preclude new construction from happening.


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