Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
The Post ran a story yesterday — based on information from a “senior source” in the prime minister’s office– that Netanyahu is going to approve hundreds of new housing units in Judea and Samaria this week. This presumably means issuing new building tenders, as it was said to go beyond building currently being done on some 2,500 units as the result of tenders issued more than four months ago.
Then, according to this source, the prime minister would “consider a building freeze” for “a few months,” if “conditions were right.”
Other sources I’m reading seem to indicate that indeed Netanyahu does intend to agree to a freeze — that is, it’s more than something he’s merely “considering.” (Are we surprised?) It is the scope of the freeze that is most likely not fully determined yet:
Would he going to agree to freeze construction in Jerusalem — when he has indicated repeatedly that Jerusalem is fully under our sovereignty and that freezes should not apply there? One source indicates eastern Jerusalem would be included.
Would the freeze be total or would there be latitude to provide for normal living (e.g., school construction) — as he has demanded?
And for how long would he agree to a freeze? “A few months” is a very vague formulation. There are sources indicating a US expectation of nine months, with perhaps an extension. The reality is that the US would like the freeze to continue for the duration of negotiations, which will last years (until it breaks down), but Israel says nothing doing to this.
It has been suggested that how much Netanyahu would agree to depends on what the Arabs would be willing to give, as this is, theoretically, supposed to be a reciprocal confidence building action. But it remains pathetic.
The major hold-out is Saudi Arabia, which says it already made its contribution to peace with its 2002 plan and will offer nothing else until a peace treaty is signed. Re-opening of an economic interest section in Morocco? Low level ties with Qatar and Oman? Cultural exchanges with Persian Gulf countries? Wow! The only issue with potential weight is the suggestion of certain fly-over rights, but I believe these would be for commercial airlines only.
Another issue of significance is whether these Arab gestures would be synchronized with Netanyahu’s freeze announcement, so that it appears to be truly reciprocal. Don’t hold your breath on this. It becomes a matter of who appears to have blinked first, and I would bet that, whatever is agreed privately, public Arab announcements would follow Israel’s concessions.
Obama is making all of the expected noises about how we shouldn’t be doing this and the fact that the US “regrets” this decision.
However, it is fairly clear that the US — specifically Mitchell — knew about this.
And so here’s my take, based on nothing but my own instincts in the matter. Call it informed speculation, and don’t hold me to this: I think the Obama protests are formula, and that Netanyahu told Mitchell that he’ll have less flack from his right wing here when he announces the freeze if he has provided an image of toughness first. And so the US said, go with it, since we’ve agreed a freeze will follow.
Ask yourself, why would Netanyahu suddenly announce this building, just as he’s supposed to be working on the parameters of a freeze, if not to mollify those who don’t like the idea of a freeze and to assure them that he’s tough?
What I know for certain is that Netanyahu is watching his right flank right within Likud right now. He knows they can bring him down, and that he can move just so far in making concessions.
A Likud rally will be held in party headquarters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. The rally organizers have made clear that this is a pro-settlement and not an anti-Netanyahu rally. So far, 16 Likud MKs — more than half of the Likud faction in the government — have said they will attend.
Perhaps of note, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud), a Netanyahu ally, has come out in defense of the prime minister:
“In today’s complex situation, our prime minister whom we chose, Binyamin Netanyahu, must maintain all our national interests — the settlements that are the apple of our eye, Jerusalem, and also our relations with the United States and avoiding international isolation, because we will not be able to do the things that are close to our hearts if we are isolated>
While another Netanyahu loyalist said:
“Bibi doesn’t care any less about Judea and Samaria than anyone else in the Likud, but the is the only one who has the full picture on all the interests of the country, and he has to make decisions on existential matters even if he has to make decisions he doesn’t want to make that he wouldn’t make in a normal period.”
What are we talking about here? The existential threat of Iran and the concessions that Netanyahu allegedly has to make to buy greater US support for our attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
We’ve heard this before, several times. But does it hold water at all? It’s a way to reduce criticism, for sure. Yet, if this were valid, it does seem Netanyahu would have shared with his fellow-Likudniks sufficient information so that they wouldn’t be holding that rally on Wednesday.
And at the end of the day, is this really how Obama would play it? As the threat of Iran grows ever more ominous, it must be asked if Obama would attempt to block our military action even if it seemed prudent for world security, just because we didn’t freeze settlements. Or, if he still didn’t want us to attack, if he would allow us to do so because we froze settlements — as if he were doing us a favor. The settlement freeze seems a mighty slim thread on which to hang such decisions — but who knows.
Lastly, then it must be asked if we really need Obama’s permission anyway. Caroline Glick (below) argues we don’t.
Please see Caroline Glick’s very somber piece, “Time’s up on Iran.”