The Boston Globe quoted a senior administration official earlier this week who said that, following three weeks of “haggling” with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, the Obama administration has walked away from its effort to renew the freezing of construction in Jewish settlements for another 90 days,
The Globe suggested the administration decided to “pull the plug” because it concluded that even if Netanyahu were able to talk his Cabinet into accepting a freeze—which at the time seemed out of his reach—the resulting 90-day negotiating period between Israel and the PA would not have yielded much progress on any of the core issues the U.S. was pushing.
“We made a strong effort, and everyone tried in good faith to resume direct negotiations in a way that would be meaningful and sustainable,’’ a senior US official told the Globe, “but the extension [of a freeze] wasn’t actually going to do that.’’
Israeli PM relying on a narrow, right-wing coalition, fuggedaboutit.
That was then.
According to a very short Wednesday press release by the prime minister’s office, “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this evening called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on the formation of the national unity government.”
But Friday’s Ha’aretz offers a great deal more on that conversation. It quotes a senior State Department official, who reveals that Clinton told Netanyahu she knows what’s in the new deal that he signed with Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, and she likes it. Particularly the part about pursuing the two-state solution.
Essentially, all the U.S. hopes that had been dashed on the weekend for the possibility of achieving a two-state solution have been resurrected, because Netanyahu no longer had any excuses. Hillary can count, and she sees a government with a solid majority prepared to start serving up Jewish settlements in return for Palestinian gestures of peace.
Among other things, Hillary requested that Netanyahu respond to PA President Mahmoud Abas’s April letter, which the PM has been avoiding. And for good reasons. It’s chock full of landmines which Netanyahu is liable to trigger no matter which way he answers.
The first landmine introduces not only the principle of Palestinian ownership of Gaza, Judea and Samaria, but also the agreement to provide geographic contiguity for those regions:
“Mr. Prime Minister,
Among the most critical components of the signed agreements between the PLO and Israel is the recognition that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute a single territorial unit, the integrity of which must be preserved until a final status agreement is reached. As such it is subject to one law and one authority. In recognition of this, I have been determined to end the division of my people through national reconciliation, in accordance with my political program which respects signed agreements, recognizes the State of Israel, and renounces violence. With regret, the Government of Israel has chosen to take a position diametrically opposed to Palestinian national reconciliation. Aside from this, we continue to honor all our obligations, including the reactivation of the trilateral anti- incitement committee.”
The other landmine in Abbas’s letter is a list which, back in 1992, appeared as promising as a honeymoon suite in Niagara Falls, and today looks more like the same suite, but after the Rolling Stones spent a weekend there. Netanyahu would be hard pressed to find a handful, never mind a majority, of Israeli Jews who still believe the following points could possibly be attained:
“Mr. Prime Minister
Our historic Peace Proposal is still waiting for an answer from Israel. • We agreed to establish the State of Palestine on only 22% of the territory of historical Palestine–on all the Palestinian Territory occupied by Israel in 1967. • The establishment of an independent Palestinian State that can live side-by-side with the State of Israel in peace and security on the borders of 1967 with mutually agreed swaps equal in size and value. • Security will be guaranteed by a third party accepted by both, to be deployed on the Palestinian side. • A just and agreed resolution for the refugees’ problem as specified in the Arab Peace Initiative. • Jerusalem will serve as a capital of two States. East Jerusalem capital of Palestine. West Jerusalem capital of Israel. Jerusalem as an open city can be the symbol of peace.”
And so, in conclusion, Abbas writes: “We call on the Government of Israel to do the following:
1. Accept the two-state solution on the 1967 borders with possible minor and mutually agreed upon land swaps of equal size and value; 2. Stop all settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem; 3. Release all prisoners, in particular those imprisoned prior to the end of 1994; and 4. Revoke all decisions taken since 2000 which undermine agreements signed between Israel and the PLO.”
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on Thursday said President Abbas expected to receive a response to his letter in the coming days. The minister said Israeli practices on the ground actually amounted to a response “in one way or another,” but said “despite this, the Palestinian leadership is expecting a written response.”
An Israeli source told Ha’aretz that Netanyahu’s envoy, attorney Isaac Molho, is planning to meet with Abbas in Ramallah next week, with the much anticipated response letter. So far, though, it doesn’t appear that the PM will be signaling anything beyond how committed his country is to resuming negotiations without preconditions.
But the writing may be on the wall, and the real losers may be Jewish settlers east of the security fence. A two-state solution would mean their uprooting, God forbid.
One reprieve may come from a most unexpected source: Kadima Council Chairman, MK Haim Ramon, who this week informed Shaul Mofaz he was quitting the party and starting his own Knesset faction. It is expected that several, perhaps as many as six Kadima MKs will defect to join Ramon in the opposition. This could trim Netanyahu’s coalition somewhat.
Another reprieve would come from Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who might decide that his best chances to hold on to his own voters would also be in quitting Netanyahu’s government.
Hillary can count, but some math can only be done in Hebrew…
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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