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Monday, October 04, 2010

What's to be gained from a 60-day freeze extension anyway?

I know that a lot of you must be wondering what the big deal is about a 60-day extension of the 'settlement freeze.' From an Israeli perspective, why is the government playing so hard to get on a concession that's largely symbolic and for which the US has apparently offered a lot in return. From the Americans' perspective, what do they gain by putting things off for another 60 days?

My own view is that the 60 days are designed to ensure that the talks don't fall apart and embarrass Obama in the lead-up to the US midterm elections. And Netanyahu is not agreeing because he's playing for the one card that will absolve him politically with the Israeli electorate for agreeing to the freeze: Jonathan Pollard.

When we were talking about 90 days, there was also, as you may recall, a provision about changing the agenda of the talks, so as to deal with the border issue during the 90-day period, so that a future extension of the freeze is unnecessary. You may also recall that many people in Israel were opposed to that agenda change, because it would have discussed borders in a vacuum away from all the other issues. Additionally, it is unlikely that borders are going to be resolved in either a 60- or 90-day period. And additionally, there was the concern that the Obama administration would request another extension after all, which remains a concern regardless of what promises we are given. This administration has yet to prove its reliability, and if the last three weeks show nothing else, they show that neither side trusts the Obama administration.

In a Hebrew article in Maariv, Shmuel Rosner speculates over what the Americans have to gain from a 60-day freeze extension. Here's a summary in English for the Hebrew-impaired.
Rosner starts out by saying that the Americans are having trouble figuring out what Netanyahu's game is. Is he playing poker to seek still more concessions, or is he genuinely unwilling to extend the freeze? On the other hand, the Americans are pleased with the role Defense Minister Ehud Barak has played in trying to bring about the freeze extension.

But many people in Israel are not pleased with Barak's role. They speculate that it was Barak - rather than David Makovsky - who leaked the details of President Obama's offer to Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, and that Barak did so in a bid to circumvent Netanyahu and lay the groundwork in Israeli public opinion for an extension of the freeze.

Rosner asks whether Netanyahu wants to be convinced. Is he playing for time and a better offer in the days leading up to the Arab League meeting at the end of the week? And what does 60 days gain? As I noted above, Rosner writes that the Americans say that within 60 days we can agree upon future borders with the 'Palestinians' and that therefore there will be no need to discuss a future extension. Rosner is skeptical (as am I) whether any such agreement is possible within 60 days. He asks why the Americans are setting another trap for themselves by making a 60-day deadline.

But Rosner points out that in two months Obama will be past the US elections. He can keep saying that we need just another week or just another two weeks or throw up his hands and allow Netanyahu to be blamed without having to worry about consequences at the polls.

And what will the 'Palestinians' do? Ten months ago, they were given an incentive to sit down at direct talks. Instead, they stalled and created a crisis. If that crisis results in them receiving an extension of the freeze, what is to stop them from doing it again? It's easier to drag things out for another two months and then for another two months.... When there's no agreement in two months, the 'Palestinians' will be able to bring the international media and show bulldozers building. Obama and the UN will call Netanyahu and what will they say? Go ahead and build all you want as we agreed? (My comment: Sadly, a green light to unlimited building is unlikely in any event, although it's what I advocated).

Someone who expects that at the end of the two months Israel will be allowed to build as much as it wants should agree to the freeze extension, whoever doesn't believe that will happen should at least think about whether to agree. And so, Netanyahu thinks about it.
Again, I believe that the only circumstance in which Netanyahu can agree to any extension is Pollard's release. Everything the Americans have offered until now are things that we would have expected to get as part of a future agreement anyway. Only with Pollard's release would Israel be getting something that we would not expect to get from the Americans under the terms of any future agreement anyway - a real concession.


At 6:00 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The question is whether Obama is willing to pay that price to help Netanyahu sell an extension to his Cabinet.

If he isn't, all the other things Israel would get from the US aren't important enough to justify extending it. The one thing Israel can't do is allow itself to be blackmailed by the Palestinians into making a unilateral concession with nothing to show for it.

And Netanyahu understands this request is strictly for Obama's political benefit. To accede to it, he needs to have something to show for it with Israeli public opinion. So we'll see if Obama is prepared to scratch Netanyahu's back for a two month extension of the revanant freeze.

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Broomer said...

It's time for Israel to get something more concrete than a piece of paper. Thus that's where Pollard gets into the picture. The palis have not and will never give anything concrete.


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