The 90-day moratorium, if approved by the Israeli cabinet, will start in the next week or so, and will be retroactively applied to new housing in disputed West Bank land that was approved since the last freeze expired Sept. 26th, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s David Makovsky told POLITICO Sunday.Wow. Where to begin!?
En route back from Japan on Sunday, President Barack Obama praised Netanyahu for proposing the new freeze proposal:
"I think it is promising," Obama told the press on the back of the plane, of Netanyahu introducing the new freeze package to his cabinet, according to the pool report. "I commend Prime Minister Netanyahu for taking I think a very constructive step."
"It's not easy for him to do, but I think it's a signal that he is serious," Obama added of Netanyahu.
Obama also said he wants to have the parties quickly return to final-status negotiations, so future freezes won't be needed.
The proposed U.S. package would include 20 F-35 joint strike fighter aircrafts for Israel, valued at $3 billion; U.S. commitment to veto at the UN Security Council any resolutions that would unilaterally declare a Palestinian state over the next year; and a U.S.-Israel long-term security agreement that would be negotiated and signed in tandem with an agreement with the Palestinians. Washington also agreed to not to seek a new settlement moratorium after the 90 days. The new freeze - as with the 10-month partial settlements moratorium that expired in September — would reportedly not apply to Jerusalem.
Arlene Kushner writes about the implications of this retroactive settlement freeze:
That means that anyone who started construction when that last freeze was lifted would have to stop. This alone is sufficient to bring one's blood to the boiling point.Furthermore, here is Netanyahu, being asked to extend a one-time offer Netanyahu made on his own--an offer that Abbas did not even respond to till the offer had almost ran out--and now Obama thinks it's a signal that he is serious. We wait with bated breath to hear what parallel concession Abbas has made that signals he is serious about peace.
(A clarification to the best of my understanding: This does not mean counting of the 90 days would start from September 26. Counting would begin on the day agreement went into effect. However, when the previous freeze was instituted, construction that had already reached a certain point, with a foundation in and perhaps walls up, was -- at least in theory -- permitted to be finished. In this instance, everything started after September 26 -- even if the foundation were already in, etc. -- would be counted as new construction and have to stop. This would in essence make the freeze a lot more than 90 days and would over-turn the lifting of the freeze on September 27.)
Meanwhile, the US is offering Israel a security agreement--something that Obama has repeatedly said is a key ingredient in that "unbreakable" bond between the US and Israel--except that now it "would be negotiated and signed in tandem with an agreement with the Palestinians". A security agreement that is conditional on a peace agreement with Abbas--is that in recognition of the fact that once a second Palestinian state is established, Israel will be in even greater danger than it is now?
In addition, being that he is on a roll, Obama throws in a bone--one that curiously lacking much marrow: a "U.S. commitment to veto at the UN Security Council any resolutions that would unilaterally declare a Palestinian state over the next year". So a year from now, should the West Bank Arabs again try to unilaterally declare a second Palestinian state, who knows what new demands the US will come up with in exchange for their largess. Remember the good old days, when we were young and naive--and US could be counted on to defend Israel in the UN because it was the right thing to do?
So now we wait, and see what weeks of US pressure has wrought.
UPDATE: Ethan Bronner of the New York Times reports on the gamble Israel is making on another settlement freeze:
Obama administration officials said they believed that the Israelis and Palestinians could make enough progress on the contours of a Palestinian state to largely set aside the dispute over settlements.Of course, those compromises were already understood, and have been understood, for years--validating the claim that the freeze is an imaginary issue.
Under the most likely outcome, said a person close to the negotiations, the two sides would agree that several large West Bank settlement blocks would be kept in Israeli territory, and Israel would exchange a commensurate amount of land to compensate the Palestinians for that territory.
So what was the big deal?
The point of the extension, the official said, is to allow the negotiations to gain enough traction to continue without further disruption.But of course, there is more to it than that--once again, Israel has demonstrated that given enough pressure, it caves. Meanwhile, Abbas and the Palestiian Authority expend no effort and risk nothing.
But didn't Israel gain by getting the extra planes? No, they didn't:
Mr. Some of the elements of the offer, including the military hardware and a security pact between Israel and the United States, are things that the administration would most likely have offered later, when Israel was close to signing a final agreement, according to officials and analysts.Of course, not everyone agrees:
“The fact that this is front loaded, visible, and that Jerusalem by agreement is left out of the moratorium — not to mention all the political stuff related to the U.N. — is a sweet deal” for Mr. Netanyahu, said Aaron David Miller, a veteran of peace negotiations who is now a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.Again, the visibility of this really only benefits Obama, who still has precious little to show in terms of accomplishments in office. The "stuff related to the UN", as I mentioned before, is something that Israel used to be able to rely on the US to do. The new arrangement is actually a step backwards.
And if Israel was under pressure till now, once 90-day freeze is agreed upon, the pressure will only increase--and we all know that the pressure will only be applied on Israel.
It will be a very difficult 3 months.
Technorati Tag: Mideast Peace Talks and Israel Settlement freeze.