Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson got the transcript of a brief meeting between the heads of four major West Bank settlements and Benjamin Netanyahu. The settlers were intended to meet with the director general of the PM’s Office, Eyal Gabai, but Netanyahu did a POTUS-like move, and dropped in to say hello. This is what he heard:
[Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny] Kashriel appears in the minutes as saying: “The [West Bank settlement] heads in Judea and Samaria are in a situation today in which they are humiliated and ridiculed. There was never such a bad period [as the present]. Before the elections, there was talk of construction in settlement blocs. Now we are not seeing an end [of this]. Everything is frozen. Under the prior [Olmert] administration, it was possible to build between houses. Now this is not [allowed]. The situation also has direct economic implications. There is no construction. There is no income from permits, from the sale of land or from property taxes. Charitable foundations are not coming to Judea and Samaria. There was a meeting with the finance minister in which promises were made, but since the approval of the budget, it has not been possible to get [what was promised].”
Gush Etzion council head Shaul Goldstein reportedly added that “there is great frustration among the [settlement] authority heads in Judea and Samaria. Everything is in the hands of the prime minister, and there will be no hesitation to do battle with him. [Construction in] Gush Etzion is totally frozen.”
The anxiety among the settlers confirms what I wrote before: contrary to most media reports, it seems that the American pressure on the new Israeli government had some success after all. Netanyahu’s actions – unlike his ministers rhetoric – suggest some willingness to join the renewed diplomatic effort, at least so he could not be blamed for deliberately failing it (we can only guess if there was some reward promised to Israel in exchange, possibly with regards to Iran).
I wonder who leaked this transcript to Haaretz. Did it come from the settlers, possibly as a signal to Netanyahu that their patience is running out, or was it the PM office, trying to show the world how Netanyahu is doing all he can to help the peace process – even risking his own position at home?
Sincere or not, it could be that Netanyahu’s efforts are bearing fruits: Politico’s Ben Smith is reporting that the administration is ready for a fresh start with the Israeli PM (link through Rosner’s):
“Netanyahu’s at a pivotal moment,” said a senior U.S. official. “Depending on what he decides, he could wind up with a very strong relationship with President Obama and potentially become a historic figure in Israel.”
“It could very well hinge on what he decides in the next couple of weeks,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Another senior U.S. official held out a similar carrot for Netanyahu: This moment offers the opportunity to “forge a very important and positive relationship between Netanyahu and the president,” the official said.