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American Gain Over Settlement Freeze Fiasco

 

3 October 2010

By Yisarel Ne'eman

One would think the settlement freeze was the major issue in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians from what is reported in the press. To set the record straight – Palestinian Pres. Mahmoud Abbas wasted nine months before coming to the negotiating table while Israeli PM Netanyahu's supposedly "extremist" right wing government imposed a ten month building moratorium. Other governments negotiated as construction continued, settlements being removed as part of the arrangement for withdrawal. This occurred in Sinai from 1979 – 1982 as part of the peace accords with Egypt and in Gaza in 2005 during the Disengagement as agreed upon with the Bush Administration.

The Americans know this quite well, yet they are the ones who insisted on the building freeze, thereby encouraging the Palestinians to keep up the demand. Even the Arab League appears to be lining up with the Palestinians, a development not seen as likely just a few days ago. Now the Obama Administration is insisting on additional two month moratorium. It is harder to imagine greater diplomatic incompetence if the Americans truly desire to be the broker and not the breaker of the peace talks. Is Washington really that stupid? Many believe Obama to be just that naïve and foolish.

Israelis should look in the mirror first before casting the Americans in the role of the (global) village idiot. The amount of political/diplomatic mileage to be gained with the Arab/Muslim world over the building moratorium in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is enormous. And best yet it costs the US nothing, everything is at Israel's expense in world diplomatic forums. Peace making becomes that much more difficult each time the issue of Israeli construction across the 1949-67 armistice lines is raised as the right/religious bloc is automatically activated to halt any attempt at a two-state solution. Diplomatically and in the world media, bashing Israel over settlements helps to offset US involvement in Pakistan, Afghanistan and (still in) Iraq.

To counter Israeli political concerns over extending the moratorium another two months a package deal involving military equipment, US diplomatic support and a promise of an Israeli presence along the Jordan River as part of a permanent status agreement was said to be offered by the diplomat Dennis Ross who previously negotiated between the two sides in the 1990s and into Camp David 2000. Whether this offer is serious or not at the present is not clear, however it is hard to imagine any Israeli government accepting a permanent status arrangement without active American support for Israel expressed through close military/political cooperation and an Israeli force in the Jordan Rift Valley. However Netanyahu was expected to jump at this proposition and extend the building freeze, if only for two months. Logically he should have done it but politically he cannot.

Netanyahu is being billed as the great "rejectionist" of all attempts to make peace despite the fact that everyone knows he cannot re-implement the building freeze once again in the coalition he leads at present. The non-issue moratorium lasted for close to a year yet nothing was done in the first 90% of time allotted. The real issue facing Israel is whether the country remains Jewish and democratic after arriving at conflict resolution with its Arab neighbors. Whether Netanyahu and the present government are up to the task remains unknown, but more about this in a subsequent article.

In the meantime the US is solidifying moderate secular leaning Arab/Muslim interests at Israel's expense, knowing full well the present government will play the role of the "bad guy" whom all can heap blame upon. If the US truly wanted to broker peace at present the administration would insist on dealing with the core issues, beginning with borders and thereby outmaneuvering the settlement movement, leaving many inside a future Palestinian state. By the US insisting on a settlement freeze as a prerequisite peace between Israelis and Palestinians becomes secondary to other interests.