In an article in The NY Jewish Week entitled “Game Changer in the Wings?,” its Washington correspondent, James Besser, surveys informed opinions on the pending deal to extend Israel’s moratorium in the West Bank. The subhead indicates a guessing game in Washington:
“Incentives package to Israel has analysts wondering what–if anything– is up U.S.’s sleeve.” Basically, there’s speculation on what may really be expected of Israel in return for what seems on the surface to be a very generous incentive package for a seemingly small Israeli concession in foregoing settlement activity for a mere 90 days, and not in East Jerusalem.
Writing in The American Prospect, its Israel correspondent, Gershom Gorenberg, observes that, “Despite the appearance of wild generosity, Obama and Clinton could have Netanyahu in a very tight spot.” The following is an abridged version of his article available online:
…. The American incentives, we’ve heard, include those 20 advanced war planes, a pledge to veto anti-Israel measures in the Security Council for the next year and to prevent international supervision of Israel’s nuclear installations, and more pressure on Iran to stop nuclear-arms development. … The offer of the planes is not exactly unusual in U.S.-Israeli relations. It fits the consistent policy since 1967 of giving Israel the means to defend itself, so that the United States will not have to. Providing arms is also a way of creating jobs stateside. It’s likely that the F-35 deal was already in the works and has now been made contingent on Israeli actions.
As for the diplomatic moves, these are all things that Washington is already doing. In fact, “keeping up pressure on Iran” is a backward way of saying, “not answering your request to send in our Air Force.” As for American vetoes in the Security Council, this is an old tradition. As Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea noted this week, “A tradition is difficult to break. A clause in a contract, however, can be broken,” if the other party hasn’t kept its side of the agreement.
In other words, the carrots are really sticks. The U.S. offer translates as, “When Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad carries out his plan to declare a state next year, you want us to veto U.N. recognition? Stop the cement-mixers. You want us to keep the inspectors away from your reactor? Please see the instructions above.”
These are very significant threats. Are they worth wasting on a three-month, nonrenewable settlement freeze?
Look again at the other side of the deal. Renewing the freeze is intended to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. For Israel to get those “incentives,” the administration reportedly requires that the first subject on the agenda be the permanent borders between Israel and Palestine — apparently with the goal that both sides sign off on them even before negotiating the rest of a peace agreement. The logic is simple: “Mr. Netanyahu, you want to keep building settlements without them getting in the way of peace? Once you’ve agreed with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on borders, you can build any part of the West Bank that you’re going to keep. Then you can go to negotiate the rest of the peace agreement.”
…. Besides that, the latest leaks (in Hebrew) say that Washington has never exactly promised that these three months will be the last freeze it requests. Perhaps Netanyahu did not quite understand what Clinton was telling him during those seven hours. Perhaps the claim that this would be the final freeze was spin intended to persuade his political allies to support the deal. If so, it didn’t work. One of the “clarifications” that Netanyahu now wants from Washington is a commitment that Israel won’t be asked for a further concession.
…. If he wins Cabinet approval for the American plan, he will be under heavy pressure to agree on boundaries before reaching a full peace accord. If his government rejects America’s offer, he will stand responsible before the Israeli public for possible Security Council ratification of Palestinian statehood, for not getting the F-35s, perhaps even for some very curious international inspectors asking for a good look at Israeli reactors.
Netanyahu has two obvious options for avoiding this dilemma: He could impose an open-ended, complete freeze on all settlement construction in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, until a final-status agreement is signed. Or he could strive to reach such a deal in the next three months, in order to get his money’s worth for withdrawal. This shouldn’t be as hard as it sounds. The shape of an agreement has been clear for years. Starting with the unofficial Geneva Accord of 2003, for instance, would take care of nearly all the work.
But the problem isn’t just that Netanyahu’s coalition partners aren’t willing to do either of those things or that his own Likud Party might depose him. It’s that Netanyahu himself doesn’t want to reach an agreement….