President Barack Obama last night phoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to keep up his efforts to start negotiations with the Palestinians, and to support the hard work Secretary of State John Kerry has been investing in this project. This despite the fact that the Palestinians were appearing to, once again, pull Israel’s chestnuts out of the fire.
On Thursday, Amin Maqboul, secretary-general of Fatah’s revolutionary council, said Israel’s rejection of the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations signaled that Israel had no intention of stopping settlement building in “Palestine.” So they’re rejecting the whole thing.
Not good enough for Obama and Kerry, who spend so much time and effort on their obsession with the 2-State thing, you’d thing their office maps of the Middle East don’t include key spots like Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Iran.
We suggested yesterday that the only reason Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was willing to join the talks without preconditions was because he was promised that he’d get all his conditions shortly after the start of the talks.
Kerry on Thursday extended his sixth visit to the region, saying he was hoping for a breakthrough on direct negotiations. He had met with Abbas in Jordan for two rounds of intensive talks on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Maqboul told the Ma’an news agency on Thursday that Palestinian leaders had already reached a consensus with Kerry that for talks to resume, Israel must agree to negotiate on 1967 lines—that means giving up East Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the Golan before the talks have begun, then release an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners with Jewish blood on their hands, and stop settlement building. There’s been a de facto settlement freeze in place for at least two years now, but the Arabs want something in writing, and they want it now.
Is Bibi giving in to American pressure? According to the Palestinians—you bet your Bibi. Maqboul is saying Israel has already agreed to release 250 Palestinian prisoners, and to release Palestinians detained before the 1993 Oslo Accords in stages, once talks resume.
Some of those prisoners still carry a coupon for one free slice at Sbarro’s, for heaven’s sake.
But Netanyahu would not agree to basing the negotiations on Israel’s recognition of the 1967 line, stubborn, unreasonable man that he is. And although you can pay a fine and lose your investment if you dare close your porch in East Jerusalem—officially there’s no freeze, and Netanyahu won’t say there is. So PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yousef said that the Palestinians were forced to refuse to return to talks “because Israel would not announce a settlement freeze or recognize the Palestinian state.”
At which point Kerry called Obama, Obama got on the phone and read Bibi the riot act.
An estimated 20 Syrians died while Barry and Bibi rehashed their differences. No matter.
But does Netanyahu have the votes inside his coalition for any of the concessions?
Mind you, a coalition collapse at this point, before the end of July, means that the budget would not pass—and the entire effort of going to the voter and erecting a new coalition began with the need to pass the new budget, with its draconian cuts of around $10 billion. So Bibi simply cannot afford a bitter fight at home right now. Fighting will have to be suspended till August.
This is something the right-wing of Netanyahu’s coalition understands well. Which is why Naftali Bennett, head of the 12-member Beit Yehudi coalition partner, has chosen to start rejecting the 2-state now, after six months of Trappist silence on the issue.
Responding to the European Union directive (which goes into effect today) against the legitimacy of Jewish life beyond the “green line,” Bennett said our answer to the Europeans must be another birth, another planted tree, another home, and another village.
Speaking at an outpost in the region of Benjamin, Bennett told the residents: “You are the antidote to all kinds of boycotts.”
But voices within the Likud-Beiteinu faction—and senior voices at that—are reading the Obama handwriting on the wall, and starting to flex their muscles. On Friday morning, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Reshet Bet that accepting the 1967 border would be suicidal. He also rejected out of hand the notion of Israel’s capitulating on all the disputed issues—in order to facilitate the start of the negotiations. What would they negotiate, then? The size of Jewish coffins?
But the left inside the coalition has not been silent, either. Minister Jacob Perry of Yesh Atid (Lapid’s party) told the same Reshet Bet host that Israel must embrace the 1967 line, possibly with a few minor alterations. He suggested there’s a majority in Israel for a near-complete retreat from Judea and Samaria—he didn’t say anything about East Jerusalem.
Then Perry, who used to be the head of the Shabbac, Israel’s semi-clandestine internal security police, warned that if the prime minister had to make coalition changes in mid sail to facilitate a deal, he would.
And Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich promised Bibi that, should Naftali Bennett’s party leave the coalition over the 2-state deal, she and her party would provide him with a political safety net. It’s a math issue: Bennett has 12 seats, Shelly has 15.
Of course, this means that in order to end Jewish life beyond the green line, the Labor party would vote in favor of a budget that it spent the past month attacking as fattening the rich at the expense of the middle class and the poor in Israel—even predicting the collapse of whole segments of the country because the new budget is so harsh, neglecting the neediest, taxing unfairly folks with middle income.
But it’s all worth it, for a chance to kill the “settlements.”Yori Yanover
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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