The top news item this evening on walla.co.il – Israel’s most popular web site – reads as follows: “Netanyahu in a message to Obama: Abu-Mazen has no more excuses”. I think this sums it all up. The settlements moratorium PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced was never intended to re-ignite the peace process. It’s not a step toward the Palestinians. It is, as Netanyahu all but put it himself, a message to the White House, asking it to get off our back, and start blaming the Arabs for the occupation, like they did until a year ago.
Netanyuahu and Barak know very well that the Palestinians won’t settle for this. A moratorium that does not include Jerusalem, does not include public buildings, does not include projects already under construction, does not include “security needs”? – what is it exactly that it does include? No wonder all the Right wing’s ministers but one voted for it!
In the State Department’s briefing today, George Mitchell was walking a thin line: wanting to praise Netanyahu, but at the same time being very careful not to say that the Americans got what they asked for:
The steps announced today are the result of a unilateral decision by the Government of Israel. This is not an agreement with the United States, nor is it an agreement with the Palestinians. United States policy on settlements remains unaffected and unchanged. As the President has said, America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.
We recognize that the Palestinians and other Arabs are concerned because Israel’s moratorium permits the completion of buildings already started and limits the effect of the moratorium to the West Bank – concerns which we share.
As to Jerusalem, United States policy remains unaffected and unchanged. As has been stated by every previous administration which addressed this issue, the status of Jerusalem and all other permanent status issues must be resolved by the parties through negotiations.
And if the US thinks that’s not enough, how can a Palestinian leader agree to negotiate with Netanyahu now? It will be as if he is saying “go ahead, do your stuff in Jerusalem. I’m cool with that.”
Abu-Mazen can barley hold on to his post right now, with Israel is doing all it can to undermine him. This week Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman declared again that the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to invade Gaza. Imagine what happens to the Palestinian president if he sits to talk with Netanyahu and Liberman, when they not only humiliate him this way, but declare that they will go on settling East Jerusalem?
Here is a naïve question: why is it the world that has to beg Israel to stop building the settlements? The whole goal of this 42 years old project was to prevent the establishing of a Palestinian state or handing back the West Bank to Jordan (it was funny to hear Sarah Palin says that the settlements has something to do with housing needs for Jews. Then again, I wonder if she can find the West Bank on a map, or the entire Middle East for that matter). Now, if Israel is going to evacuate most of the area anyway – and Netanyahu said so himself, didn’t he? – Why go on building there? Why move there people that you will have to evacuate and compensate in a few years?
Israel is playing games, and it’s all too familiar. Why did Netanyahu chose to have his moratorium for ten months? Why not a year, two years? Why not give a full moratorium during the negotiations with the Palestinians, thus giving them a reason to come to the table and stay there? Is it because in ten months we will be just weeks before the mid-term elections, with both Houses practically at the hand of AIPAC? They already got most of Washington to sign the Bayh-Risch Letter, demanding to put the heat on the Arabs, not Israel; Imagine what they would get then.
It’s not that I oppose every move Netanyahu does. I prefer him any day for PM Olmert, who traveled the world promising peace and at the same time started two wars. Frankly, I don’t care who is it that ends the Israeli control over the West Bank. I simply think that Netanyahu doesn’t want to get out, or thinks he can’t. I hope I’m mistaken. I don’t know what’s in his heart, but everything he does testifies to this fact.
When Yitzhak Rabin wanted a moratorium in the West bank, he didn’t wait for Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross to ask it, and he didn’t send his boys in Washington to wave their petitions around Pennsylvania Ave. he simply said he is going “to dry the settlements”, and then followed through. The Right wing went crazy – and we know how things ended. But notice how laid back the settlers are now. They issued a statement against the moratorium – it’s their job, after all – but that’s about it. Where are the “Bibi the Traitor” posters in Jerusalem? The huge rallies? The blocking of highway one? Until all that happens, we shouldn’t be too impressed with the PM’s “unyielding commitment to achieving peace” (that’s AIPAC, again).