The “other shoe” I’m referring to is the end result of the whole business of extending the freeze, or part of the freeze, or whatever, so that face-to-face negotiations might continue. There is the sense that where we sit now is not the end of it all. (In the vernacular, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” means having heard one shoe hit the floor as its wearer pulled it off, and knowing that there has to be another shoe yet to come.)
I put a question mark after it because I’m not entirely sure there will be another shoe, although it’s clear that Obama is not finished pushing and will not let go easily.
Last week, after the news broke about the Obama letter intended to entice Netanyahu into a 60-day extension of the freeze (the letter that Obama denies having written), there was a deluge of reports and analyses, replete with the usual quota of rumors and speculations.
It would be unwise to even try to share all of it here, but it is perhaps valuable to touch a few bases:
What caught my eye was a report from Ben Caspit and Eli Bardenstein, writing (originally in Hebrew) in YNet:
“Alongside a letter to Israel, President Obama sent a letter to Mahmoud Abbas promising that if the Palestinians continued with the direct peace talks, the U.S., and Obama personally, would pledge to support the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines [the 1949 armistice lines] with land swaps.”
At this point, the word “duplicitous” comes to mind. Earlier reports had indicated that this is something he was threatening to do if we didn’t freeze. But it seems he didn’t wait for Israel’s answer, and is quite content to offer whatever he imagines will be enticing — as long as he gets everyone to the table before elections next month. As Barry Rubin has pointed out, for example, Obama offered in his Israel letter to allow the IDF to remain in the Jordan Valley, for security reasons, after a state is formed — but this is a vacuous promise because it’s a given that the PA would balk and there is no expectation that Obama would actually push the issue.
Several people ventured guesses as to why Netanyahu was refusing the offer made in Obama’s letter.
There is the thought that Netanyahu is holding tight because he won’t break his pledge to the people — but I would call this the weakest of the speculations.
Several commentators have observed that Netanyahu’s position is that there were supposed to be reciprocal actions that have not been forthcoming; that the Palestinians wasted nine months after the freeze started by not opening direct talks; and that the focus on settlements is excessive, when far greater issues must be dealt with. All are valid arguments, and all have been advanced by Netanyahu.
However, what is also clear is that Netanyahu is constrained by fear of a breakdown of his coalition. (More on this.)
A couple of very reputable analysts pointed a finger at Obama.
Evelyn Gordon, writing in Commentary, observed that “Obama’s Repudiation of Promises to Israel Comes Back to Haunt Him.”
Whatever excuses Netanyahu has given for not renewing the freeze, she says, “the real reason is too undiplomatic to state publicly: Obama, by his own actions, has shown he views presidential promises as made to be broken. And Israel’s government is loath to incur the real damage of extending the freeze…in exchange for promises that will be conveniently forgotten when they come due.
“Israel, after all, received its last presidential promise just six years ago, in exchange for leaving Gaza. In writing George W. Bush said the Palestinian Authority must end incitement and terror, voiced support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” vowed to ‘strengthen Israel’s capability’ to defend itself, and said any Israeli-Palestinian deal should leave Israel with the settlement blocs and ‘defensible borders”’and resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. He also promised orally that Israel could continue building in the settlement blocs.
“But when Obama took office, he denied the oral pledge’s very existence, infuriating even Israeli leftists. As Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote, it was possible to argue the policy should change, ‘but not to lie.’
“And while Obama hasn’t denied the written document’s existence, he’s nullified it de facto through his every word and action: he’s never challenged PA incitement; he’s advocated the indefensible pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem (where he bullied Israel into halting construction even in huge Jewish neighborhoods that will clearly remain Israeli under any deal); he hasn’t publicly demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state or said the refugees can’t be resettled in Israel; and far from strengthening Israel’s defensive capabilities, he’s condemned Israel’s enforcement of an arms blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, bullied Israel into accepting a UN probe of its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla, imposed unprecedented restrictions on Israel’s purchase of F-35 fighters, and more…”
While Martin Peretz pointed out in The New Republic that “Obama Made The Construction Moratorium The Issue That It Is. Now the Palestinians Are Stuck With It. And So Is He.”
It is Barry Rubin, however, who most effectively poked holes in the Obama offer.
First, he says, Netanyahu’s coalition is not in favor of continuing the freeze, and the sort of enticements Obama is making are not going to change the minds of those opposed. Sort of makes it all moot.
But there is more:
Obama has said that all that was being asked is a two-month freeze, and that the administration would not seek a further extension after that. Asks Rubin: “Why two months, why not three or four? Why not two weeks?
“Hmm, readers, what is happening within two months? The U.S. election! The implication is that the Obama Administration is offering Israel the following basic deal: Make us look good until the vote and we will give you a pay-off.
“That’s it. Because the only alternative view is that the United States believes that the once-every-two-week talks will make such dramatic progress in two months that both Israel and the Palestinians will be on the verge of peace or an end to the freeze won’t matter.
“Is that credible? No…
“The Obama Administration cannot bash Israel between now and the elections but it might seek to get revenge in 2011.”
And where are we now?
On Saturday, Abbas met with the Executive Committee of the PLO, and they told him there should be no talks until settlement construction is frozen. Yesterday, Abbas declared that the talks were on hold.
If only this were the end of the story…
Word coming out from the Israeli government is that all sorts of compromises are being explored in communication with the US administration, in order to find a way out of this impasse.
Oi! The other shoe slips a bit lower.
However, political wisdom here has it that not only is 54% of the Israeli public against an additional freeze (according to a Dahaf Institute poll), but neither does Netanyahu have support for a freeze in his full Cabinet (with 15 out of 30 opposed, and 7 undecided, according to Yidiot Ahronot) or in the security Cabinet (with eight of 15 opposed), or the Septet (with four out of seven opposed).
Cabinet members who are mentioned as having come out publicly as opposed include finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, and Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. Others who have not gone public but are presumed to be opposed include Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin. I would guess that Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom is opposed; and clearly Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is. On it goes.
If our prime minister’s back stays strong, it will be because of others standing behind him, lending that critical support.
Undoubtedly he has noticed that the Dahaf poll mentioned above also indicates that if elections were held today, Labor would go from 13 seats to six. Doesn’t do much for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s standing.
Abbas still plans to meet with the Arab League in a few days. I confess to a bit of confusion here, however: technically, at least, our negotiations are with the PLO. If this group has declared a halt if we build, I’m not sure how Abbas could proceed even if the League gave him a go-ahead.
While we are still on hold, there are other analyses worth looking at:
Prime Minister Netanyahu has insisted in the course of talk about a Palestinian state, that for sake of the security of Israel, such a state would have to be demilitarized.
Louis Rene Beres, an expert in international law, warns us — in “Why A Palestinian State Would Never Be ‘Demilitarized'” — that this is not likely to be possible.
“Any rejection of demilitarization, he says, “could find fully authoritative support in pertinent international treaties.”
What is more, “There are hidden and very significant dangers to demilitarization. This is because the grave threat to Israel of any Palestinian state would lie not only in the presence or absence of a particular national armed force, but also in the many other enemy armies and insurgents that would inevitably compete for power in the new and fragile Arab country.
In addition, “There is another less obvious reason why a demilitarized Palestine would present Israel with a substantial security threat: International law would not necessarily expect Palestinian compliance with pre-state agreements concerning armed force. As a new state, Palestine might not be bound by any pre-independence contracts, even if these agreements had included certain U.S.guarantees to Israel.
The lesson: avoid a Palestinian state.
Khaled Abu Toameh has written a piece for Hudson NY entitled, “Ask the Arabs of East Jerusalem: Should Jerusalem Be Redivided?”
The answer, of course, is that a majority of the Arabs living in eastern Jerusalem wouldn’t want the city re-divided (i.e., as it was from 1948-67). Many of the reasons given are predictable:
“Most Arabs in the city prefer to live under Israeli rule for a number of reasons. First, because as holders of Israeli ID cards they are entitled to many rights and privileges that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip don’t enjoy. They include freedom of movement and social, economic, health and education services that Israeli citizens are entitled to.
“Redividing Jerusalem means bringing either the Palestinian Authority of Hamas into the city. The Arab residents of Jerusalem have seen what happened in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past 16 years and are not keen to live under a corrupt authority or a radical Islamist entity.
“Over the past few years, many Arab residents of the city who used to live in the West Bank have abandoned their homes and returned to Jerusalem. They did so mainly out of fear of losing their rights and privileges as holders of Israeli ID cards.
“But many of them also ran away from the West Bank because they did not want to live in territories controlled by militiamen, armed gangs and corrupt leaders and institutions.”
But there are other reasons given by Abu Toameh that would impinge upon all of the residents of the city, and these are reasons that we should pay close attention to. They argue against division of the city no matter what:
“Both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators need to take into account that it’s completely unrealistic to talk about restoring the pre-1967 situation where Jerusalem was divided into two cities.
“The division was bad for Jews and Arabs back then and it will be worse if it happens once again.
“Jerusalem is a very small city where Jews and Arabs live across the street from each other and on top of each other. Since 1967, Israel has built many new neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, rendering it impossible to imagine a reality where Jerusalem would exist as a divided city.
“Redividing Jerusalem will turn the lives of both Jews and Arabs into a nightmare, especially with regards to traffic arrangements. Every day, tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs commute between the two parts of the city freely.
“Redividing Jerusalem will result in the establishment of checkpoints and border crossings inside many parts of the city. Jews and Arabs will find themselves confined to their homes and neighborhoods, which will be surrounded by security barriers and checkpoints.”
Abu Toameh says, additionally, that:
“Those who think that Jerusalem can be split into two are living in an illusion and clearly do not know what they are talking about. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, like most Palestinians, is aware of this reality. However, that is not going to stop him and others from continuing to demand that eastern Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state.”
Now this is something to bring to your elected representatives in Congress. Provide the URL, give brief and salient facts, and ask why your government is supporting a policy that isn’t workable.
For your Congresspersons:
For your Senators:
“The Good News Corner”
Tomorrow Israel Aircraft will unveil the Panther, a new type of UAV that can lift off and land like a helicopter.
This Thursday a mass rally entitled “For the truth, for Israel” will be held in Rome. It has been organized by Fiamma Nirenstein — who is a journalist, a member of the Italian Parliament, and MP, and vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies — in cooperation with other leading European figures.