There’s plenty to report on/analyze with regard to Obama and his administration (including material on the settlements, below), but it’s time to take a vacation from analyses of his speech.
As to his much hyped visit to Buchenwald, I will not comment here. Precisely because I think it’s hype. He came down harder on Israel than on Iran in Cairo, and then went to the camp to demonstrate to the world how sensitive he was to Jewish suffering. I didn’t buy it. Or, rather, I’m more interested in seeing his sensitivity to Jewish rights and heritage.
So, let’s turn to other matters.
The focus now is on the issue of settlements and our right to continue to build for natural growth (a denial of such a right being equivalent to the denial of our right to thrive and endure on the land).
The Obama government, with the full complicity of Hillary Clinton, is insisting that our commitment via the Road Map is to an absolute freeze on all settlements, with “freeze” meaning no building whatsoever.
The story, as I’ve indicated here, is more complicated than this by a long shot. There is the exchange of letters between Sharon and Bush, which are like a memorandum of understanding, with court precedent — I’ve been advised — for recognizing such a memorandum as having implications in terms of commitment.
In June 2004, a Concurrent “Spirit of Congress” Resolution (which was not binding) passed in both houses of Congress. It “strongly endorse[d] the principles articulated by President Bush in his letter dated April 14, 2004, to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon…”
Beyond this, we have a statement from Elliot Abrams, a former national security advisor involved in negotiating the issue of settlements. He was cited in the Washington Post, on May 24, as confirming that there were discussions during the Bush administration regarding the nature of the constraints on settlements, with an understanding reached.
On June 2, Dov Weisglass, former chief of staff to PM Sharon, wrote a piece in Yediot Ahronot, with regard to this understanding. Says Weisglass:
“…on May 1, 2003 in Jerusalem. Senior administration officials Steven Hadley and Elliott Abrams met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and me, and, over the next two days succeeded in working out an exact definition of the term ‘settlement freeze’ in the Road Map. According to this definition, (1) no new settlements would be built, (2) no Palestinian land would be expropriated or otherwise seized for the purpose of settlement, (3) construction within the settlements would be confined to ‘the existing construction line’, and (4) public funds would not be earmarked for encouraging settlements.
“On a further meeting held with Ms. [Condoleezza] Rice on May 14, 2003, the agreement on the definition of the term ‘freeze’ was confirmed…”
Since the height of the confrontation between our government and the US on this issue, however, there has started to be a subtle softening of tone. When Defense Minister Barak was in Washington last week, he was assured that Obama had no intention of trying to topple the Netanyahu government — which intention has been suggested in certain quarters.
While US envoy George Mitchell, who is here now, has begun a process of de-emphasizing our differences and emphasizing our relationship as close allies.
There are even hints that our disagreement on settlements can be “worked out.”
While there might be reason to be pleased by this, in point of fact it makes me uneasy. For, when I read that the matter can be “worked out,” I immediately ask myself what it is expected that we will surrender in principle. (I’ve read unconfirmed reports, for example, about our possibly agreeing to limit where we would do construction for natural growth — with some communities that should not be excluded indeed being left out of the agreement. Unconfirmed.)
What we are coming to in a matter of days is a major policy speech by Bibi, to be delivered at Bar Ilan University, at the BESA Center. He’s been mum on what the parameters of this speech will be. But within this lies the core of what our policy is likely to be (or, better, will be, with possible adjustments).
Speculation is that he will hold out for something less than the full sovereignty of a state for the Palestinians, insisting that for our security we require that there be an autonomy for them instead — whatever that autonomy would be called — that requires demilitarization and keeps them out of strategic areas and high points where their presence would threaten our security.
Beyond a certain point, however, speculation is not productive.
But we may have a hint in a speech just delivered by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, at the Institute for Near East Policy, in Washington.
The result of an American plan to resolve issues within two years, he said, might lead to a Hamastan in Judea and Samaria.
“These assumptions [that the two-state vision is the only viable solution, and that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a major obstacle to peace] stood behind the Oslo process, and its failure indicates that they deserve to be reexamined. Such examination will reveal that, whereas the Israelis were really ready for this kind of a solution, including myself, the Palestinians do not accept that ‘the two state solution’ refers to two states for two peoples.
“In their view, one state should be the Palestinian state and the national identity of the other state should remain undefined, so that in the future it can become a Palestinian state as well.”
Said Ya’alon, “It is our duty to explain the facts to our American friends.”
I salute him for this straight talk, which he likely would not have offered without the tacit approval of the prime minister.
I am mindful of the tightrope that Bibi walks right now. And I have discussed before the fact that he opts generally to not be confrontational, though he has, to date been tough indeed. His tendency is to work within the system to achieve what he sees as the best result.
Thus, for example, he was not receptive to the letter sent by Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled (Likud), who suggested that we become less dependent on the US — for example by buying planes from Airbus in France instead of Boeing in the US.
We’re going to see a stance from Bibi that is, indeed, a compromise, which will not please ideologues. No, he is not going to say, “This is our land and so I reject all proposals.” He will say, “Because our rights and our security are my first concerns, and because I demand reciprocity, this is as far as I will go.”
That much is close to certain.
According to Gil Hoffman in the Post, the hawks of Likud are saying that they know they have to be flexible with Bibi because of the heat he’s taking. Thus, if he recognizes the Road Map, but secures an agreement to build in the settlements, this will not bring down the coalition.
MK Danny Danon, who is staunchly nationalist and thoroughly opposed to a “two-state solution,” said, “We would still scream but we would understand his decision.”
Most significantly, according to Hoffman:
“Likud MKs said that if Netanyahu did make such a policy shift, they expected that he would tell them he was doing so with the knowledge that the Palestinians and the Arab world would not do their part to allow US President Barack Obama to advance his policies, so there would not be any real danger that a Palestinian state would actually be created.”
My perception is clearly in line with this — that is, I believe it is a given that a Palestinian state is not going to evolve from what Obama is promoting (and more about this below). The danger, however, is in agreeing to things in principle that can come back to haunt us later.
According to an (unconfirmed) report in the Arab daily in London, Asharq Al-Awsat, Obama formulated a two-year plan for achieving Israeli- Palestinian peace, which was presented to Netanyahu when he was in Washington. And, says this report, Netanyahu “was given six weeks” to respond. If this is true, it puts my back up very badly indeed. Obama giving ultimatums? Making demands rather than requests?
Reportedly, the plan was also presented to Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, when they were in Washington.
They took in seriously, but saw a stumbling block: the political fragmentation of the Palestinians. How about that!
Thus, the Egyptians are now taking it upon themselves, once again, to work on reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
Forgive me, but this is breathtakingly stupid. There is no way to be diplomatic about this, nor should I try to be. Aside from the fact that any coalition they might cobble together would not be stable long-term, there is the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and honor previous agreements. Do they intend to try the diplomatic slight-of-hand, by which Hamas doesn’t have to do these things even if it’s part of a unity coalition, as long as the members of the government (i.e., the ministers) they select do? And they would expect us to sign off on a significant agreement with such a government?
Quite simply, even if Fatah were sincere about making peace (it’s not), Hamas is the fly in the ointment that makes it impossible — yet Obama and company won’t recognize it.
On top of Hamas intransigence, there is this: Abbas has declared that until Netanyahu freezes settlements and accepts a “two state solution,” he will not sit at a negotiating table with him. He is counting on Obama to take care of matters. Obama’s stance has simply hardened the inflexibility of the PA — hey, the White House is on their side now, no need to worry. Thus are Obama’s actions counterproductive to his declared goals. And thus is the likelihood of any agreement even further diminished.