Thursday, December 03, 2009

Netanyahu's Settlement Freeze Is Not A Betrayal--And Neither Was Begin's (Updated)

Isi Leibler writes in the Jerusalem Post defending Netanyahu's decision to put a 10-month freeze on construction in the settlements. Leibler outlines the connection Israel has with and dependence on the US
HOWEVER THESE factors and our reliance on the US do not oblige us to behave like a banana republic and accede to every diktat of this administration. We must simply ensure that if we are obliged to resist a particular US demand, it should be over an issue on which Congress and the American people would be inclined to support us.

Alas, the settlement issue has become so convoluted and distorted in the minds of the public that even many American Jews are confused and unable to distinguish between outposts, isolated settlements and the major settlement blocs.
Leibler believes that a compromise now will strengthen Israel's hand later--with the Obama administration, and, if necessary, with Congress and the American public.

Leibler also points out that Netanyahu is not the first Israeli Prime Minister to carry out such a freeze:

DESPITE UNDERSTANDABLE bitterness and frustration, opponents of the freeze should take into account that Netanyahu's action is not unprecedented. Menachem Begin also introduced a three-month freeze on settlement construction when he initiated negotiations with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. They should also ask themselves why men of principle from the national camp like Moshe Ya'alon and Bennie Begin have endorsed Netanyahu.
But this reference to Begin highlights the problem with a settlement freeze: how it will be interpreted later. CAMERA details how Carter twisted Begin's settlement freeze into a long-term commitment that was later betrayed:
For example, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post in 2000, Carter claimed:
Prime Minister Begin pledged that there would be no establishment of new settlements until after the final peace negotiations were completed. But later, under Likud pressure, he declined to honor this commitment, explaining that his presumption had been that all peace talks would be concluded within three months. (Washington Post, Nov. 26, 2000)
CAMERA finds the charge in Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid as well.
This is a distortion picked up by others in the media.

As it turns out, as CAMERA points out, during a symposium commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Camp David Accords, Carter agrees that it was a limited 3-month freeze. In the clip below, after former Attorney General of Israel Aharon Barak describes how he knows that the freeze was only intended for 3 months, you can hear Carter say, "I don't dispute that" (at 1:04)

Considering the stand of the Obama administration, denying previous understandings between Israel and the US, Netanyahu had better be sure that his 10-month freeze is not interpreted as an ongoing commitment to be re-examined and extended later.

UPDATE: P David Hornik writes:
I would add that dealing with Obama and almost the whole world (apart from some conservative Jewish and Christian Americans, and very few others anywhere else) on the settlements issue is like dealing with a psychotic. Coping with someone with a psychosis can be difficult and dangerous, and you can't just say "You're wrong" or ignore the complaints and threats. The idea that "the settlements" are some kind of sin and crime that wrecks everything in the Middle East, if not the world, is deeply ingrained and very widespread. Ultimately I believe it's rooted in historical anti-Semitism and inclinations to see Jews as spoilers of reality. Bibi is trying to hold Obama at bay, keep his coalition together (which means esp. keeping Ehud Barak as defense minister, something very important to Bibi though it's not entirely clear why), and most important of all, keep U.S.-Israeli relations on a firm footing. Something has to "give."
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