There has been no official statement from Netanyahu with regard to a continuation of the freeze. Although Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren has told US media that construction will be “responsible, restrained and limited.” (Uh oh)
Mitchell is here now, and will be meeting Netanyahu tomorrow. Reports are that Netanyahu is also on the phone a good deal of the time, reaching for that “compromise.” He won’t be meeting with the cabinet to discuss this until next week, at about the same time that Abbas will be meeting with the Arab League. Apparently he will also be meeting with the PLO and Fatah.
Meanwhile, PA Negotiator Nabil Shaath is still saying that they will walk if we start building:
“Maybe the Israelis will reassess their position and see the whole world is against the continuation of settlement activities.”
Sometimes it does feel like the whole world is against us. France, in a lovely gesture intended to frighten us, recently informed us that this was the case. (Sarkozy is now proposing a peace summit in Paris, which will fix everything.) And the UN’s Ban Ki-Moon has referred to our resumption of building as “provocative.”
But in truth, there are people with us. We’ve got 87 US Senators (a very solid percentage of 100!) who just days ago signed on to a letter to Obama stating “Neither side should make threats to leave just as the talks are getting started.” With this oblique reference to Abbas comes a call for Obama to publicly pressure him.
Then there is Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) who just released a statement that said in part:
“Upon the lapsing of the moratorium on new settlements, State Department representatives expressed the Obama Administration’s ‘disappointment’ that Israel would resume its construction of houses in the West Bank. Unfortunately, I believe the Administration’s disappointment is seriously misdirected.
“Comments such as those coming from the State Department are not at all unexpected, as the Obama Administration has consistently shown an unprecedented degree of antagonism toward Israel. A few months ago, the Administration chastised Israel for building homes in Jerusalem, despite the fact that Jerusalem is not a settlement, but the capital of the nation of Israel, which was founded and built by the ancient people of Israel 3000 years ago.
“Indeed, it is highly ironic and bewildering that Israel has received more open rebuke from the Obama administration for plans to build houses in Jerusalem than the Iranian regime that threatens Israel with annihilation has received for building a secret uranium enrichment facility to produce nuclear weapons…
“As Israelis celebrate their ability to resume construction on the thousands of dwellings that have sat unfinished throughout this moratorium, I urge President Obama to at long last embrace, rather than alienate, the most vital ally America has in the world.”
And, at least for the moment we even have Richard Cohen of the Washington Post.
I was (most pleasantly!) surprised by a column he just wrote . Suffice it to say that he has not been one of Israel’s more eager supporters. But things are so bad that — in a column called “Obama demands more than Israel can give” — he truly gets it. In fact, he does a good job of making our case in ways I would have not expected:
“The arena of the Obama administration’s incompetence is the issue of West Bank settlements. This is something of a misnomer since some settlements are indistinguishable parts of Jerusalem. Even in the Middle East, common sense can play a role. The Jerusalem-area settlements are not going to be abandoned by Israel. Settlements are how Zionists settled Israel – and the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria are the heart of biblical Israel…
“…The government of Benjamin Netanyahu complied, under extreme pressure, but only to a 10-month moratorium. For Netanyahu, this was a major concession. He heads a coalition that takes settlements very seriously…
“From the very start, the president has taken a very hard line against settlements, refusing to distinguish between an apartment in Jerusalem and a hilltop encampment deep in the West Bank. He also seems not to understand their religious, cultural or historical importance to some Jews. The Obama approach has been counterproductive. Obama has to husband his credibility. He foolishly demanded something Israel could not yet give. It was bad diplomacy.”
Meanwhile, building has begun on some hundreds of homes in Judea and Samaria: in Tekoa, Efrat, Oranit and other communities. Normally such construction work would not be done on the intermediate days of Sukkot. But it is being done because there is a sense of urgency — a fear that the freeze that has just been lifted might be reinstated at any time.
Perhaps the nicest news involves the start of construction on some 50 housing units in Ariel, in Samaria, that are designated for people who had been expelled from their homes in Netzarim, in Gaza in 2005.
I heard MK Danny Danon (Likud) — a passionate opponent of the freeze — speak tonight.
He said most clearly it was the case that Netanyahu declined to extend the freeze because he recognized that it was not a viable option politically. Thus maintaining that pressure on him within Israel remains important.
Danon is opposed to a referendum, should there be a deal of sorts with the Palestinian Arabs, because it is too unpredictable, depending, for example, on how the wording is done. His choice would be a call for elections.
He also spoke about the need to attend to Jerusalem and keep her united. There is a great deal of critical importance to say about this, and I will table it for another day.
I’ve seen in the news twice now reports that Fatah and Hamas are close to reconciliation. There are tensions between these groups that would render any unity coalition established for the sake of governing all of the Palestinian areas very shaky. But I think it is not a coincidence that this is being raised right now.
Egypt had put forward an agreement for reconciliation quite some time ago. Fatah signed it, but Hamas never did. Now it’s being revisited, with, we are being told, many issues resolved. The “only” outstanding issues are the question of when to hold elections — both for the legislature and for the president, and how the respective security forces would be handled — whether they’d be merged and who would be in charge of what.
You should not hold your breath waiting for agreement on these issues. However, I’ve been speculating on how it might serve these two parties to come to some sort of a merger or cooperative coalition at this time. Hamas is opposed to negotiations: would they use this to undermine them? Abbas wants out: would this provide him with what he is seeking?
I have the feeling now that, if I may use this expression, the inmates are running the asylum. The world is crazy. But if Hamas and Fatah should reach agreement, watch for it to get even more irrational, with the members of the Quartet twisting themselves into pretzels in order to find ways to legitimize Hamas as a negotiating partner.