Netanyahu has refused to formally renew the freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria. Nonetheless he is now sending a negotiator to Washington to meet with a PA negotiator, to try to arrange — no, not a compromise on the freeze — but, as it’s coming to me, an additional meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas before the freeze ends so that they might come to a compromise.
By the way… Remember the rumor about Netanyahu himself going to Washington? He was supposed to go yesterday, and he’s still here. But this doesn’t mean it wasn’t contemplated at the time.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman, saying on Army Radio that Netanyahu was under “massive” pressure, declared that “the job of leaders is to stand up to pressure. If we can’t withstand pressure on a relatively simple issue like continuing building in Judea and Samaria, how can we defend other interests?”
But if you think this is a cut and dried matter — a “simple issue” — without all sorts complications, including behind the scenes mumblings and machinations, think again.
For starters: There have been rumors floating, about a potential trade — three more months of freeze for the release of Jonathan Pollard. See IMRA — http://imra.org.il — for a number of related stories on this over the last few days. Maybe THIS is why Netanyahu was thinking of going to Washington. According to Army Radio, citing people within the Prime Minister’s Office, that Office has submitted the proposal, although the US has not responded. The Prime Minister’s Office is, of course, claiming no knowledge of any of this.
According to Aaron Lerner, of IMRA, “A leading Israeli peace activist who heads a well known Israeli organization that promotes the peace process both in Israel and overseas advised IMRA this morning that he was bringing the proposed Pollard-Freeze Extension Exchange proposal to the attention of his White House contact.”
We have to assume then that the Prime Minister is fully cognizant of this proposal and presumably has signed on, and that the White House is also aware of it. Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen. Lerner’s comment:
“[US administration officials] certainly “talk the talk” when it comes to lecturing Israel about the need to make ‘sacrifices for peace.’
“But now the shoe is on the other foot. Is President Obama willing to make a ‘sacrifice for peace’?
“President Obama can release Jonathan Pollard from prison (where he has already served several fold the sentence others have for similar offenses) with the stroke of a pen in a move that is not subject to either review or oversight.”
The sense is that extending the freeze for three months in return for Pollard would not bring down the government. While this is all highly speculative at this point, there would be an enormous sense of victory in bringing him out. His prolonged incarceration represents a serious miscarriage of justice that was undoubtedly fueled by anti-Semitic/anti-Israel attitudes on the part of key parties involved.
If you are not already familiar with the facts of Pollard’s case, see here:
Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States, was never indicted for compromising codes, agents, or war plans, and was never charged with treason. He was indicted on only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States.
Working as a civilian American Naval intelligence analyst in the 1980s, he discovered information vital to Israel’s security — information that Israel was supposed to receive, which was being deliberately withheld by certain elements within the U.S. national security establishment. Ultimately, he passed this information to Israel. (Unless I am very much mistaken, this included information on Iraq, which resulted finally in Israel taking out the Iraqi nuclear reactor.)
Pollard never had a trial, instead agreeing to a plea bargain. While he cooperated fully with prosecuting authorities, in the end he received a life sentence. The government, abrogating the plea agreement, recommended that he not be eligible for parole.
No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally. The median sentence for this offense is two to four years.
There were all sorts of charges from the US government –innuendos really — regarding why Pollard would present a danger if released — that he had information that could compromise US security, etc. But, in a denial of Pollard’s civil rights, he was never permitted full access to these ostensible charges.
It has occurred to me (again, speculatively) that Netanyahu would likely consider his securing of Pollard’s release to represent a special — even personal– victory. That Hillary Clinton is now secretary of state would make the victory even sweeter:
The last time Netanyahu was prime minister, he had arranged what he thought was a deal with then President Clinton for Pollard to be released. This was in 1998, at the Wye Plantation Summit, at which the relinquishing to the PA of much of Hebron was negotiated, as part of Oslo (very painfully as far as Israeli nationalists were concerned). Clinton enticed Netanyahu with a promise to release Pollard as part of the deal when the accords were signed. But he reneged (more bluntly, he did a royal number on Netanyahu). Instead of allowing for Pollard’s immediate release, he said he would do a “speedy review” of the case, which would allow for his release shortly. Needless to say, it never happened and the accords had been signed. Netanyahu came home with egg on his face, highly criticized for signing the deal and not walking out. It is in part as a result of this that he acquired his reputation as a prime minister who caves to American presidents.
Moving back to the present, there is yet one other factor that must be looked at here, with regard to the freeze. Defense Minister Barak (about whom more below) is going to Washington as well, or is perhaps already there now. Barak is Obama’s good buddy, and there are those afraid that he’ll strike a deal with the US administration on a continuation of the freeze and then return home and present it as a fait accompli.
But there is another issue that Barak will be dealing with in the US, when he meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor James Jones, as well as Obama advisor Dennis Ross and others:
According to YNet, Barak is seeking to secure new, advanced weaponry for Israel. Our government is said to be enthusiastic about the possibilities now of acquiring US weaponry that had been denied us in the past, such as cruise missiles and bunker busters.
Whoa! Are we seeing here a juxtaposition of negotiations about two issues — extending the freeze and securing weaponry — at the same time? Coincidence?
Barak associates are cited as saying that Israel’s defense ties with the US “are at their height,” and that the Americans are “doing all they [can] to meet our demands.” Well, excellent. But what if there is a quid pro quo?
Because of recent promises made to Arab countries with regard to weaponry, it becomes highly critical for us to secure new sophisticated weapons that will guarantee our qualitative edge. And bunker busters? We need those to break through those bunkers where Iran is storing its nuclear equipment.
Giving us these weapons is something the US should do because it is supposed to be our ally, and we are the only democracy in the Middle East, and serve American needs well in terms of intelligence, military prowess, and a host of other factors.
Please see Guy Bechor, writing in YNet on this very issue:
“As the Obama Administration continues to show weakness in the Middle East, the region slips into a state of instability…
“…the IDF’s power is the most important guarantee for Mideastern stability. The current-day IDF, after an immense build-up process and demonstrated achievements, is the region’s most powerful army and its strength serves as a deterrent. This is even more conspicuous in the face of the American weakness in the region.
“And so, the world is upside down: Once upon a time, American power provided stability for Israel, yet today Israeli power grants stability to American interests in the Middle East.” (Emphasis added)
And so Obama should be delighted to serve US interests by keep us strong. But what if the US president chooses to make a linkage between his support for us and other factors? A linkage that is artificial, but irrevocable from his perspective.
I hasten to caution again that this is, too, is speculative. Please don’t cite me here as having provided facts.
I have been a strong advocate of seeing Netanyahu stand against Obama, and I see clearly the slippery slope on which one concession merely leads to more demands. I don’t think there should have been a freeze at all.
I further vehemently deny the truth of any claim that there is a link between what we do vis-a-vis the PA and how the Arab states respond with regard to cooperating with the US, on Iran or anything else. In fact, I’ve made the case that just the opposite is true: The Arab states are angry with Obama for not being stronger against Iran. Bechor reflects this same thinking.
What if Obama, who cares not a whit about what happens to Israel or the broader Middle East, and is concerned, for political purposes, only about advancing his reputation as a “peacemaker”…
What if he has made a linkage with regard to our receiving sophisticated weaponry that is important to our security and our willingness to compromise on extending the freeze?
There are no easy answers then, if this is the case. And our prime minister would be required to do some very heavy soul searching. If this indeed were the case, I would not envy him, and would hope not to judge him.
But then again, Netanyahu has shown a propensity for being willing to compromise principles to accommodate Obama. I’ve called it dangerous game playing. He might cave again on the issue of the freeze not because of a linkage, but because it’s his nature to do so.
It remains our job to protest extension of the freeze.
Please note this announcement:
This coming Sunday, September 26, the day when the freeze is presumed to end, there will be a tour of Samaria sponsored by World Likud.
MK Danny Danon and a number of other Members of Knesset will participate. A bus for Anglos (with an English speaking guide to participate) will leave from Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel at 8:15 AM and is expected to return at about 7:30 PM. There will be an opportunity to purchase lunch, and a sukkah to eat it in.
The day will lend with a demonstration and symbolic start of building in order to make a strong statement that Jewish life should return to normal in Judea and Samaria.
Registration is required by tomorrow, Tuesday. Cost is 30 shekels and exact change is requested.
I return to the subject of Barak with regard to a battle that is ensuing between our defense minister and former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Portions of an autobiography Olmert is working on have been released by Yediot Aharonot, which is publishing the book. These portions contain charges that when Olmert was prime minister, Barak (who to this day is in Labor and currently its titular head) begged to be allowed into Kadima, when it was a new party, and to be given the position of defense minister (a position that he did acquire). Olmert, in these sections, further called Barak “a disappointing defense minister,” “an obsessive talker,” insulting,, blunt and rude,” and “lacking decision making capability.”
Barak, furious about what Olmert said, attacked. Olmert, claiming that he decided to simply tell the truth in his memoirs, attacked back, even more vehemently. He said Barak made recommendations on sensitive issues that were irresponsible. (I’ll buy that.) Declared Olmert, “I can’t write about security issues and not say who initiated daring steps, who tried to prevent the government from undertaking them by undermining.” (The assumption here is that Barak held back on Israel’s alleged attack on the Syrian nuclear installation in 2007.)
What fun. Two men who have been highly destructive to Israel going at each other. Olmert’s political career is finished. But if he can weaken Barak’s reputation now, he will be doing the nation a service. Barak’s strong arm techniques in Judea and Samaria have been particularly deplorable.