So, what is the difference between agreeing secretly to an extension of the construction freeze, but — for domestic political reasons — not declaring it… And not formally extending the freeze but agreeing secretly that if there is significant progress on the “talks” before the end of the freeze then there will be no announcement of resumed construction that would threaten the process or upset the US?
There is a difference, buried in this somewhere. But it’s a fine line, and in part a matter of semantics. The difference lies in the fact that the first is formal, even if secret. Things would be frozen. The second, which would depend upon a certain state of affairs to be put in place, is informal, de facto, and could be reversed at any time.
Yediot Achronot is saying that the second set of circumstances is what we can expect: That Netanyahu has agreed not to publicly announce a resumption of building at the end of the freeze. That is, if direct talks are already under way or there has been such progress in the “proximity talks” that direct talks are expected to begin very soon.
This is how Yediot interprets the statement made by Obama, when asked about an extension of the freeze, that he hopes that face-to-face will begin before the freeze expires. He hopes this, presumably, because it would preclude an announcement of renewed building.
The major question to be asked, of course, is what it means to not “announce publicly” so as to not “sabotage the talks” (i.e., give the PA a reason to walk away)? Does “not announcing” mean not building? Or would it be understood that some quiet building would take place? If, that is, “quiet” is possible with Peace Now watching every nail that is hammered and running to let the press know about it.
And, if the direct talks have not yet begun, how “serious” do the proximity talks have to be — what is it they will have had to achieve — for this agreement to go into effect? I can see potential for serious disagreement on this, with Obama declaring any one of a number of statements to be “progress.”
None of this goes down very well. The whole notion of face-to-face talks that might set (first, if the PA has its way) the future borders of a Palestinian state generates some severe indigestion. And this is so, even as I remain convinced that it is not really going to happen — that there will not be a resolution of issues that will lead to a “two-state solution.” As I have written multiple times, Abbas is not going to sign off on anything — he cannot. And I believe that Netanyahu is proceeding firm in the conviction that Abbas will stall. He is marking time.
And yet… To give the whole procedure credence. To set precedents with regard to borders to a Palestinian state. To give the PA more latitude in terms of managing security. Not a happy prospect.
At any rate, right now, in spite of a renewed eagerness on the part of Obama to see face-to-face start almost immediately, Abbas is still saying that there’s nothing doing because we won’t agree upfront to what those borders would be. He may, very deliberately, kill the whole thing before it proceeds further — counting on that UN resolution instead.
And there is, as well, the response of our right wing that Netanyahu will have to contend with once he’s back home. This is why the Yediot version of matters has a certain ring of truth. Netanyahu may well have told Obama that there has to be another way — that his coalition might not stand in the face of an announcement of a freeze extension, and that he would be considerably weakened politically. This way he can say,”What? Me agree to a freeze extension? No way.”
Would the right wing sit still for an understanding that resumption of building will not be announced? Depends on what it means and how it is spun, I imagine. But right now the right wing is gearing up for major construction at the end of September.
A great deal has been made in the media of the fact that Netanyahu, in his Washington meetings, managed to successfully convey to US leaders a major Israeli concern.
To wit: Times are not what they were in 1993, when Oslo was negotiated. Previous Israeli withdrawals have led to takeover of territory by terrorist groups, so that our security has been reduced and our population threatened. Both south Lebanon and Gaza have become bases for rocket launchings and stockpiling of weapons. All of this has caused a shift in Israeli perspective: We ask why we should surrender more land.
What further exacerbates the situation is deep concern about the fact that the US intends to leave Iraq soon. This greatly increases the possibility of Iranian forces making their way through Iraq, and then Jordan, to our eastern border (which would mean going through a vulnerable and possibly cooperative Palestinian state if it were established to our east). We need to have a presence in the Jordan Valley for defensive purposes.
Thus, we cannot negotiate as we once did, we need guarantees with regard to security. And we are less willing to simply trust. We’ve learned that we cannot depend on the international community to protect us (see how UNIFIL failed to do so).
All absolutely true.
It seems to me that what’s going on here is that Netanyahu is giving the American government, in the most rational of terms (Jackson Diehl, called it a “pragmatic and non-ideological position”), a heads up regarding the fact that we will be tough in negotiations and will not settle easily. That we CANNOT settle easily and, in fairness, should not be expected to.
What I ponder — given the fact that I’m reading that the Americans, including Obama, “got it” — is how we might look for the Americans to adjust their expectations or recalibrate their demands in light of this.
Demands will remain demands, I think. They care not a fig about what’s secure for us. But this approach might have an effect on their expectations. A modicum of real politic may have been introduced, so that they understand that we can be pushed just so far and that certain factors must be in place. Maybe.
In the meantime, it’s business as usual, even though incitement is rampant in the PA and the issue of Hamas is not resolved.
For the latest evidence that Abbas is not a “partner for peace” see this from Palestinian Media Watch:
The PA daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida reported on July 6, that when Abbas was in Jordan recently, he made this statement to journalists while at the home of the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan:
“…We are unable to confront Israel militarily, and this point was discussed at the Arab League Summit in March in Sirt [Libya]. There I turned to the Arab States and I said: ‘If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor. But the Palestinians will not fight alone because they don’t have the ability to do it.’ He [Abbas] said: ‘The West Bank was completely destroyed and we will not agree that it will be destroyed again,’ in addition to ‘the inability to confront Israel militarily.'”
I just wrote about how a “hint” from Obama is worthless because he reverses himself at the drop of a hat. And now he has provided another example of just that. When with Obama, Netanyahu publicly invited him to Israel, and the president responded that he was looking forward to the visit. Already, since then, his office has announced that there are no plans for the president to visit Israel this year.
In this instance, we have to be thankful that he is reluctant to displease the Palestinian Arabs, or perhaps the larger “Muslim World.” If he were to visit here his popularity might go up.