The region: An offer he had to refuse

The reported letter to Netanyahu outlining US guarantees in exchange for an extension to the settlement freeze shows the Obama administration still doesn’t get it.

netanyahu obama 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
netanyahu obama 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Contents of a White House letter have been published outlining what the Obama administration will offer Israel if it extends the moratorium on building inside West Bank settlements for two months. The proposals reveal again how the White House doesn’t seem to understand the situation.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu couldn’t continue the freeze because there isn’t enough support in his coalition for doing so. Minor US offers won’t change that fact.
Moreover, the main underlying problem is lack of confidence that the Palestinian Authority wants peace, is willing to compromise or will implement future commitments.
When we consider the specifics, then, the US offer isn’t relevant.
But there are more problems. Consider: Why two months, why not three or four? Why not two weeks?
What is happening within two months? The US election! The implication is that the Obama administration is offering Israel the following basic deal: Make us look good until the vote.
That’s it. Because the only alternative view is that the US believes the onceevery- two-week talks will make such dramatic progress in two months that both Israel and the Palestinians will be on the verge of peace, so an end to the freeze won’t matter.
Is that credible? No. And so when press reports say the White House is angry that Netanyahu rejected the offer, we can well understand why. It certainly isn’t going to pressure the PA to give in, which is the other alternative. The collapse of the peace talks on the verge of the November elections don’t make it look good, and the administration cannot do anything to Israel until later.
Second, the US agrees that it would support measures to prevent the smuggling of weapons and terrorists into Israel after a Palestinian state is established.This is interpreted as allowing Israeli forces to stay in the Jordan Valley for several years.
This is nice, but Israel knows that the PA would never agree and that the US government isn’t going to do a lot of arm-twisting to get it to change its position.Moreover, this would set up a situation in which an isolated Israeli force would be subject to attack by terrorists, and international condemnation when it had to intercept or kill them.
WHILE NOT exactly the same thing, the US and the “international community” promised to stop cross-border weapons’ smuggling into Lebanon in 2006 and four years later, not a single weapon has been intercepted. True, in this case IDF troops would be doing the work, but the skepticism of their getting international support remains.
Third, the letter promises the US government would veto any UN Security Council resolution against Israel for the next year. This is insulting. Historically, the US has watered-down, blocked or vetoed such resolutions. So this “concession” in fact signals to Israeli leaders that the current administration isn’t exactly reliable. And, of course, it suggests that after the year is over Washington will not veto such resolutions – a big step backward.
Fourth, the administration pledges to talk with Israel and Arab states about a “regional security architecture.” Wow, that can be expected to yield
And finally, the US will sell more weapons to Israel after there is a peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state.
Well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Again, suggesting that this would happen if construction is frozen for two months also simultaneously suggests that it won’t happen otherwise. Like the veto point, it actually withdraws something Israel was previously expecting.
According to the media, Netanyahu politely pointed out that when the US originally demanded the freeze, it promised that it would secure concessions from Arab states. This didn’t happen. It also promised that the Palestinians would be responsive and fulfill their commitments. That didn’t happen either.
Indeed, they refused to negotiate until the last minute and then did so, partly, just to get the freeze extended still further.
First, PA President Mahmoud Abbas knew the freeze would last nine months. If he wanted to give Israel an incentive to continue it he could have done so. Instead, he stalled until the very last moment. For weeks, the US begged and pressed him to return to talks.
Second, if the Palestinians negotiate a two-state solution they will get – worstcase analysis – almost all of the West Bank. There will be no Jewish settlements in that territory. The settlements will be gone. All the roads and buildings Israel built (unless dismantled in the days before the agreement’s implementation) will go to the Palestinians. So if Abbas and the Palestinians are horrified by construction, wouldn’t it have made sense for them to negotiate real fast? But, on the contrary, they stretch out the process year after year after year.
Remember that the PA refused to negotiate for well over a year after January 2009. All that time Israel was building in settlements. Then for the past nine months when it wasn’t building in the West Bank, the PA still refused to negotiate.
Here’s a full time line: Phase One: 1993-late 2000. The PLO and later PA were in no hurry to make a deal and killed talks in 2000. Israel made a huge concession to begin the process in 1993: No new settlements or territorial expansion of existing ones. It kept that commitment. The PLO and PA never demanded a freeze on construction in existing settlements.
Phase Two: 2000-2009. The PA refused any sustained peace negotiations at a time when there were no limits on construction within settlements, but never demanded that it stop. The freeze on construction in existing settlements was President Barack Obama’s idea in mid- 2009, and they rejected it as the basis for renewed talks.
Phase Three: 2009-2010. After Israel did freeze construction, the PA wasted nine months – knowing the clock was ticking on the temporary freeze – while resisting direct talks.
Thus, the PA has wasted 17 years, during which thousands of buildings have been added to settlements. Two months more of a construction freeze won’t change anything, except perhaps the administration’s electoral fortunes.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at