Prime Minister Netanyahu provided a “sort-of” denial yesterday, with regard to rumors of a de facto building freeze in Jerusalem: Obama and European leaders, he said, are well aware of his position, but he didn’t elucidate what that position was.
But now Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat has gone on record with clarity.
Barkat is currently in Washington.
He informed the Israeli Embassy that he was coming, but then proceeded to arrange his own meetings with members of Congress and the media. When speaking with reporters yesterday he told them that the rumors of an informal halt to building are erroneous. He insisted that construction will continue and all that had been observed was a “temporary slowdown” in response to the enormously negative US reaction to the announcement for new housing in Ramat Shlomo that had been made while Biden was here.
“There is no freeze. It’s not true.”
The temporary slowdown, he said, was misinterpreted as an unofficial freeze. However, that slowdown was simply the result of having been “slapped in the face” by the US.
“It takes some time to recover from such an attack from a friend like the US administration.”
(Note: It had been announced after the flack over Ramat Shlomo that bureaucratic procedures were being reviewed and that matters would be on hold until the review was complete. Now the NY Times reports that Netanyahu has established a new committee to ensure that he would never again be surprised by an eastern Jerusalem housing announcement. According to Mark Regev, Netanyahu spokesman, the new mechanism was intended to improve oversight and coordination.)
Barkat said that local and district commissions that had responsibility for overseeing housing approvals had begun to meet again. “You cannot stop a vibrant and living city like Jerusalem from growing.”
“If they [US officials] are recommending a freeze, the answer is no.”
One does not sense game-playing in this statement, and I welcome its forthright “tell-it-like it-is” tone. We will know soon enough if planning committees are meeting and construction is progressing.
AP, in reporting what Barkat said, indicated that these are “comments that may complicate the Obama administration’s attempts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.”
And that leads me to another observation:
There are those who were certain yesterday that Netanyahu had caved.
However, I will suggest that something else was going on: It’s likely that the deliberate vagueness or reticence on Netanyahu’s part was not intended to hide what he had promised the US regarding a building freeze in Jerusalem. Rather, it may well have been intended to hide what he didn’t promise. He may have been avoiding an open defiance of Obama’s request, hoping to not spark the confrontation that would follow if Obama felt he had “lost face.” Perhaps he allowed a certain ambiguity to kick in so that there would be playing room for Obama to advance his negotiations agenda. Hey, the thinking may have gone, PA officials can say whatever they want in order to provide cover for themselves, if in the end they are not defining our real policy.
This would be Netanyahu’s style. He likes to appear to play the game even as he quietly goes his own way, forever doing a balancing act. Dedicated nationalists, who prefer clear statements about our rights, have no patience with this.
Sometimes it can make one cringe, because it gives the semblance of our having made concessions and makes us seem weak. Sometimes it’s a successful technique that skirts unnecessary international tensions. Sometimes there is a partial concession that leads to the proverbial slippery slope. Problem is, with Netanyahu, we often don’t know exactly where we are.
In this particular instance, thanks to Barkat, we have picture that’s a good deal clearer. For he has now said, according to YNet, that his positions on Jerusalem are identical to Netanyahu’s. But you don’t see our prime minister standing up and say, “Right on. It’s true.” In fact, members of our government are quite irked with the mayor. Fussed one unnamed official, Barak spoke inappropriately “at such a sensitive period in US-Israel ties, when every housing unit in Jerusalem gains prominence.”
Sha still, be nice, don’t tell the world what our rights are, or what we intend.
Barkat further said that Israel is sometimes confused about what signals the US is delivering. And he indicated that “bad American proposals” would be worthless in resolving the Mid-East conflict.
The nerve of him! He told the truth.
As a result of this, the US government denied his request to meet with Clinton and Mitchell.
As to our refusing to cave to US demands, another, unexpected, instance made the news today. The Jerusalem Post reports:
“Despite a 2002 road map commitment and years of pledges by successive prime ministers including Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel has no intention in the foreseeable future of dismantling any of 23 unauthorized West Bank outposts built after March 2001…
“In part, this is because the promise to dismantle the outposts was made in the framework of wider understandings with the Bush administration that provided for continued home-building [in] settlements Israel is likely to retain under a permanent accord with the Palestinians. Since, under the Obama administration, those wider understandings gave way to a demand, accepted by Netanyahu in November, for a moratorium on all new home-building throughout the settlements [according to one senior official], Israel no longer regards itself as having to go through with the outpost demolitions on the basis of that pledge to the US.”
Several ministers, including Moshe Ya’alon, were cited by the Post as supporting this version of the current situation.
Likud Minister Yuli Edelstein has explained that decisions on which –- if any –- outposts would be razed “would now be determined on the basis of the legal status of the land in each specific case, and the completion of all the necessary legal procedures, not on the basis of Israel’s pledge to the US.”
Declared Edelstein, “There were all kinds of understandings that the other side [the US] no longer views as valuable. As a result we do not have to blindly fulfill everything. There are legal procedures in this country and we have to follow them.”
Good for us!
A number of other issues played into this decision: One is the fact that there are no negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs going on, and that dismantling the outposts would be seen as a unilateral concession to them.
Another is the “likely internal friction with the settler community.” The lesson here is that it pays to make noise. Let it not be forgotten.
This issue would be less urgent if it were not for the meddling of left wing organizations such as Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), which bring petitions to the Court demanding that the outposts be taken down.
I mention here again, as I have before, that what these organizations do would be thrown out of court in the US, for they have no standing in these cases: It is not their land, they are not affected by the building.
What the government has been doing is buying time by assessing the status of the outpost in question. The Defense Ministry has actually drawn up a memo advising that enforcement of evacuation orders against outposts be deferred.
Aside from the 23 outposts built since the road map in 2001, there are some 100 others built earlier. Discussion is being held in a couple of instances with regard to retroactively legalizing them. This is the case most notably with the Derech Ha’avot outpost near Elazar in Gush Etzion. It would represent the first such action since 1996.
A similar action might be taken with the Givat Hayovel outpost near the community of Eli in Samaria. Plans to demolish this outpost attracted wide spread attention because it is where the widows and families of IDF majors Roi Klein and Eliraz Peretz live. To take their homes away from them would be to demonstrate breathtaking insensitivity (Roi Klein threw himself on a grenade to save his men), and Defense Minister Barak finally got that message.
I mention here again, as well, that the issue of what is an “authorized” community is far more complicated than it sounds. Many ministries and agencies are involved, and in almost every instance there has been some official approval — for a road to go in, or electric wires to be run, or whatever. What is missing is the final Defense Ministry sign-on.
In each of these two instances, what would be required would be the expansion of the neighboring community or the establishment of new communities. This, too, would contravene the original agreement with the Bush administration. If you remember, when the issue was being fought regarding a freeze in Judea and Samaria, the point was reinforced that the perimeters of the communities were not being enlarged, and all building was being done inside existing borders. (This was even though the Arabs were screaming that we were taking all of “their” land.)
Clearly now, our interaction with the US has shifted. I am pleased to see that our government is not being passive and simply acceding to Obama’s demands. If he doesn’t honor certain prior commitments, then we are prepared to say that neither will we honor reciprocal ones.
A note with regard to my post yesterday. (As Moti G. has pointed out) a key example of different national narratives is our celebration of Independence Day, while the Arabs who live here annually on May 15 commemorate the Nakba, which means the “catastrophe.”
I strongly recommend Daniel Pipes’ latest column, “Understanding Europe,” in which he discusses a newly translated book by French novelist and essayist Pascal Bruckner:
“Europe exonerates itself of crimes against Jews by extolling Palestinians as victims no matter how viciously they act, and by portraying Israelis as latter-day Nazis no matter how necessary their self-defense. Thus has the Palestinian question ‘quietly relegitimated hatred of the Jews.'”
For whatever it’s worth, it’s not only us that Obama treats shabbily. IMRA is carrying a piece from The Telegraph (UK) that lists Barack Obama’s ten top insults against Britain:
“Without a shadow of a doubt, Barack Obama has been the most anti-British president in modern American history. The Special Relationship has been significantly downgraded, and at times humiliated under his presidency, which has displayed a shocking disregard for America’s most important partner and strategic ally.”
But don’t worry. Obama knows what he’s doing. On Monday he renewed his pledge of a “new beginning” with the Muslim world.
Sometimes I think this is all a bad dream.