Analysis: Netanyahu uses silence to capture his objective

The former commando knows element of surprise will blunt the opposition.

netanyahu london flag 248.88 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)
netanyahu london flag 248.88
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sat in front of the Israeli press for 45 minutes here on Wednesday, just a few hours after meeting US envoy George Mitchell in London and deflected with great acumen the journalists' repeated attempts to pry out of him any real piece of information about what happened during their four-hour meeting. One journalist after the next asked the prime minister the same question, but from a slightly different angle: What was agreed upon regarding a settlements freeze? But try as the journalists may, Netanyahu would say nothing - nothing - about the agreement that is apparently being stitched together. Much has been written about the purported agreement, with one paper saying that the settlement freeze was linked to a tougher American position on Iran, and another paper saying Netanyahu agreed to a nine-month freeze. But these reports were largely based on speculation, or on third- and fourth-hand information, because the principles are simply not talking. The reason for the silence, sources in the Prime Minister's Office explain, is because the negotiations are at such a delicate and sensitive stage that one leak could bring the whole agreement down. And while there is undoubtedly something to this, there is certainly much more to the prolonged silence - the veritable drought of information on the US-Israeli discussions - and it has to do with Israeli domestic politics. Netanyahu, a former commando in Sayeret Matkal, wants to capture the hill without those defending it knowing that he has even arrived. The less that comes out about the duration of a settlement freeze, or what exactly it will entail, the better it is for Netanyahu from a tactical political standpoint. Netanyahu was in Europe discussing possible limitations on settlement construction, but besides for a few noises coming from his right, he is not facing any real opposition. And the reason is simple: no one really knows any of the details about what is being discussed. It is difficult, as Netanyahu´s political opponents are discovering, to oppose something if you really don't know exactly what it is. At a certain point, however, Netanyahu will have to unveil the agreement, and when he does he will certainly face blistering criticism from the Right both in his party, the coalition, and outside of it. But he will unveil the plan when he sees fit, highlighting what he sees fit, and couching it in terms that will certainly win over much of the public. And by that time he will be standing squarely on the hill, and his detractors will be able to do little but scream - noise that he will easily deflect. Netanyahu and his team spoke with Mitchell and his team for four hours on Wednesday. Major diplomatic moves are afoot, with the public knowing little about the details. And this suits Netanyahu just fine. His hope is that when the details emerge, and his political opponents begin to organize, it will by then be too late: the hill will already be in his hands.