Can’t say we’re home free, because that is most certainly not the case.
What does seem to be the case is that the US has given up on pushing Israel to institute an additional 90-day freeze on building in Judea and Samaria, in return for some alleged benefits (the precise nature of which has never been totally clear). I would say that in spite of Netanyahu’s expressed expectation that the agreement — which had been an oral one between him and Hillary Clinton — would be drafted in writing, that was never really the US’s intention. There are things the Americans would never set in writing, such as agreeing, even by omission, that Jerusalem would not be included in the freeze, or that there would be no expectation of additional freezes thereafter.
So, after the weeks of rumors regarding exactly what was going to be in that letter, there will be no letter. That is good news, because there will be no freeze on building.
However you conceptualize it, the fact is that Netanyahu did not bend:
He did not agree to a freeze without having the agreement in writing. He would have been a fool to have done so. Bad enough that Obama doesn’t stand behind written agreements with Israel — there would have been no leverage whatsoever with regard to a promise made in a closed room by Hillary Clinton.
And he did not allow the US to backtrack on certain understandings he had had after speaking with Clinton — understandings such as the fact that this would be the last time Israel would be expected to freeze construction.
And even more, he didn’t bend (see below) with regard to what would be discussed at the table during those 90 days. What has come through, via various leaks and unofficial reports, is that the US was counting on borders being set within those 90 days, which would have made further freezes unnecessary: everyone would simply know where the Israelis could build without restriction and where all building had to be halted.
Some give our prime minister credit for holding tight. Others see his strength having been provided by the right wing elements of his party, the make-up of the Security Cabinet, and concerns regarding a coalition break-up. Myself, I think it’s a bit of each: Without question, Netanyahu has a propensity for caving to US demands (which is what brought about the first freeze). But it’s possible that, in spite of all the drama and game-playing, he was pleased to have had that right-wing strength behind him, making it difficult if not impossible to cave further. (The fact that he pushed through the referendum legislation strengthened my conviction on this.)
In either event, it is appropriate to let him know how pleased you are that he did not cave to US demands, and how imperative it is for him stay strong for whatever comes next:
Fax: 02-670-5369 (From the US: 011-972-2-670-5369)
Of course, the US is not in any way acknowledging that it was impossible to reach an understanding with Israel that would have set in place a renewal of the building freeze.
The US is saying, rather, that it has become apparent that a further moratorium in building would not provide the basis for an agreement between the parties.
In other words, at the end of 90 days, it is highly probable that nothing concrete would have been achieved in negotiations, and that immediately after, it all would have fallen apart with considerable acrimony — or, as Herb Keinon wrote in the JPost, explosively. (Another instance of Obama’s meddling having made things worse.) For the PA was demanding that borders be discussed first, and — encouraged by the US position — that an agreement on borders be reached by the end of the three months. And Israel wasn’t having it, but was insisting that discussion on borders would take as long as it needed to take, and that other issues such as security be discussed in tandem with talk of borders.
You would think that just maybe the Obama administration would take a hard look at what’s going on and face the fact that no real “peace agreement” between Israel and the PLO/PA is possible because the parties are just too far apart. Actually, one would have to be very obtuse or self-deluded to think such an agreement could be achieved.
And, indeed, that may be the case, because the US is plodding ahead, already thinking about “what’s next,” and how to break the current stalemate. Reports have come through indicating that Obama and his inner circle truly believe that Abbas wants a peace agreement. Obtuse or self-deluded indeed.
Or, it may be that the US is merely seeking an “as if” situation: making “pretend” progress by getting the parties to sit down together so that Obama can present himself as diplomat and peacemaker, and claim a “success.”
We now know that he knows that a success in forging an Israeli-Palestinian Arab agreement is not necessary in order to get the “moderate” Arabs on board with regard to Iran.
At any rate, this leads us to that major statement that we are being told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is going to make. This comes from comments Clinton made — “I will be making a very formal set of remarks” — to the Arabic TV station Al Hurra, when she was in Bahrain this past weekend.
Clinton will be delivering a keynote address for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institute in Washington on Friday night. The event — which will be covered by the press — is the opening of the three-day Saban Forum for 2010. The Forum, a major Washington event that the Brookings Institute promotes as “a unique venue for high-level dialogue between American and Israeli leaders,” draws big names each year.
We would be foolish to expect much in the way of good news in what Clinton intends to say. But there is more: Defense Minister Ehud Barak is also scheduled to speak at the Forum. Ehud “Obama is my friend and we can make peace if we try” Barak. Uh oh.
And there is still more: The US is about to explore with both sides how best to proceed, and to that end representatives of both Israel and the PA will be going to Washington, and will be present at the Saban Forum as well. For Israel this will be Yitzhak Molcho, Israeli lawyer, friend of the prime minister, and chief Israeli negotiator these days.
There is room for a good deal of unease here.
During a visit to Bucharest on Monday, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said:
“Arab countries and members of the peace Follow-up Committee [of the Arab League] feel that they have not to close the door and to allow the American effort a further opportunity or possibility.
“But the moment of truth will be reached soon and the Arab peace committee will have to convene in order to look into the situation and then they will decide which of the available options to pursue.”
Please see a thoughtful piece by Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, on WikiLeaks and the US position on Iran:
“Since it sprang onto the international scene four years ago, WikiLeaks has been roundly condemned by officials and analysts alike as a scourge to national security. Perhaps it is, but at least as they pertain to Iran, the classified cables exposed by the group actually could end up playing a helpful role, providing a telling glimpse into what the current administration is doing wrong on Iran – and what Washington needs to do in order to get it right.”
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.