Not from where I stand: it makes me very nervous.
According to news reports here, PM Netanyahu has unofficially given US Envoy Mitchell a commitment to stop all construction in Judea and Samaria after the 3,000 units currently in planning stages — or otherwise in process — have been completed. This commitment — made, at least ostensibly, in order to render negotiations with the PA possible — would not include eastern Jerusalem.
I’m reading nothing about continuing construction for public buildings such as schools within this understanding. Nor have I heard a word regarding how long this freeze would be sustained, and under what conditions it would be cancelled — such a freeze being easy to start and difficult to terminate.
What’s wrong with this is that is sets a precedent in principle and compromises our rights. This takes Netanyahu further down that slippery road than I had expected him to go.
Actually, what Netanyahu is doing is playing with fire. He seems to be taking a risk that he anticipates will serve Israel’s interests. (Yes, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I am giving him the benefit of that doubt here.)
And so, in fairness, let’s flip over that coin and look at the other side:
Secretary of State Clinton, who arrived here last night after Shabbat, has expressed satisfaction with Netanyahu, calling his concessions “unprecedented.” She told the PA that a settlement freeze “has never been a precondition [for starting talks], it has always been an issue within the negotiations.” She made it clear that Israel, which she praised highly, was going to go no further. Clearly she has no intention of pressuring us to do so.
But Abbas is demanding further of Israel: He is still insisting that he will not come to the table unless all construction is frozen now, including in Jerusalem.
So what we have is a situation in which Israel is the “good guy” and the US is mightily irked with the PA instead.
What’s clear is that Netanyahu is a genius at manipulating the political situation so that we come out ahead, at least in the short run.
Presumably, he took a calculated risk — offering enough to delight the US, but not so much that it was likely that Abbas would accept.
It was Foreign Minister Lieberman who told the Americans (and I certainly concur) that the Palestinians weren’t interested in negotiating now. As this is true, it might be argued that Netanyahu was calling their bluff. Had he offered nothing, Abbas would have attempted to put the onus on us. But he offered just enough so that the onus is now on the Palestinians — without having given so much that there was much chance Abbas would accept.
Considering the political and diplomatic flack we’ve taken of late, this isn’t a bad place to be.
But there is a proviso here: Clinton called Netanyahu’s offer “unprecedented.” So now, even though Abbas has rejected this and Netanyahu’s offer (I am assuming — perhaps erroneously) won’t apply at the moment, there IS a precedent. And we have to ask what happens next time around and what principle may have been sacrificed.
What’s interesting here is that Deputy Premier Silvan Shalom (Likud) — something of a political adversary of Netanyahu, (and thus admittedly quick to criticize) but notably to Netanyahu’s left — said at the Cabinet meeting today:
“We did not ask any prime minister in the past to freeze the settlements. Therefore, there is no reason to ask this of Netanyahu. I very much do not support a partial freeze…we must come to any negotiations without preconditions.”
This is very much to the point. Political maneuverings or no political maneuverings, there is reason to say that Netanyahu offered more than was necessary in order to show good faith or call Abbas’s bluff. He was all together too eager.
At the Cabinet meeting, the prime minister declared:
“The Palestinians should come to their senses and enter negotiations as soon as possible…
“We are making a concerted effort to renew negotiations. This is not the effort of a moment. We have been making these efforts since the government was formed…
“We did things that have not been done by any prior government. (This is a point of pride?) We removed hundreds of road blocks and checkpoints. We have taken steps to ease their lives and the Palestinian economy. The result of this is unprecedented prosperity in the Palestinian Authority…
“On the other hand, we are encountering the opposite trend. While we are in the process of allowing for negotiations and their development, we are faced with preconditions being stipulated by the Palestinians that have not been posted since the beginning of the peace process 16 years ago.”
So how much of what’s going on has to do with keeping America happy and showing up the Palestinians, and how much is real on Netanyahu’s part? He seems to be champing at the bit, terribly eager to get those negotiations going. Is this because he believes (I don’t think he can really believe this!) that a settlement of some sort is possible, or because he wants to show the world that there’s no compromise in the Palestinians at all, but that we are just so, so sincere?
As this impasse in negotiations is faced, there is talk of some sort of interim agreement with the Palestinians.
Some — including Shaul Mofaz (formerly defense minister and now a Kadima MK) — are proposing that an “interim” Palestinian state be established, without final borders. A bad idea.
Foreign Minister Lieberman is referring to an interim understanding that is less than a state, although it’s not quite clear to me what he does have in mind.
I read one report last week that indicated the Obama administration is considering “indirect” negotiations, since Abbas won’t sit down with Netanyahu. That’s what is called “shuttle diplomacy.” But I see no evidence for this at present, as Mitchell will be remaining in the area for a few more days, to try to get direct negotiations started.
That’s part of his continuing attempt to move the rock, you understand.
The Palestinian news service Ma’an on Friday cited an independent in the PA Legislature, Dr Yasser Al-Wadiyeh, who declared:
“There has not yet been an announcement that reconciliation failed – despite some setbacks.”
Al-Wadiyeh says that efforts (apparently by independents) to promote a unity government are still going on; talks are being held outside the scope of media attention. (If this is so, why tell Ma’an?)
I would like to return to the issue of the Temple Mount briefly, looking at an article by David Kirshenbaum, in the Post. Two matters he mentions are worthy of note here:
 In point of fact, “no non-Muslim can step foot anywhere in Islam’s holy cities [which means all of Mecca and Medina, not just specific places of worship there].”
This provides a jarring contrast with the reality here, which is that “Muslims can gather on the Temple Mount by the hundreds of thousands and they can play soccer and have picnics on Judaism’s holiest site.” I would add that it also offers a look at the mentality of religious exclusivity of the Muslims, which makes them so adamantly against compromise and sharing.
 There are those (a small number, unquestionably) who are promoting the establishment of a synagogue on the Temple Mount. Primary among these is “Chief Rabbi of Haifa She’ar Yashuv Cohen, [who] has long championed a change in the status quo on the Temple Mount.”
The Arabs would have apoplexy, and our government would be too frightened to proceed with such an idea. But I think it’s great. It would establish firmly our right to not only maintain a presence but to pray there. (There is, of course, the issue of not allowing Jews to walk on sanctified places, such as where the Holy of Holies stood, but I am betting there is a way to protect that sanctity by establishing the Jewish presence on the Mount’s periphery.)
At any rate, this is an excellent piece, and I recommend reading it and sharing it:
Last week thousands of pious Jews flocked to the site of Rachel’s tomb — which is outside of Bethlehem, in an Israeli-held enclave within Palestinian Authority territory — in order to observe what is traditionally recognized as Rachel’s yartzheit, the anniversary of her death.
Ma’an, the same Palestinian news agency mentioned above, noted this event and in the accounting said:
“To this day the site, formerly known as the location of the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque…”
This is serious business, for it is one more attempt by the Palestinians to co-opt or delegitimize a Jewish site. In this case the claim is patently ridiculous.
Our mother Rachel died in childbirth (bearing Binyamin), while the family was on the road.
“And Rachel died, and was buried on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a monument upon her grave: that is the monument of Rachel’s grave until this day.” — Bereshit (Genesis) 35:19-20
Needless to say, there were no mosques then.
I will add that many Jews (myself included) are deeply touched by the imagery of Rachel in her tomb on the road, where she wept as her children passed her as they went into exile — and where she now awaits our return.
And what is the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque, you may ask.
According to Nadav Shragai, writing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs two years ago, for centuries Muslim tradition had recognized the site we call Kever Rachel as being Rachel’s tomb — this was not contested.
The Gaza-Jericho Agreement (part of Oslo), signed in 1994, stipulated that the Palestinians would guarantee free access by Jews to holy places within areas of PA jurisdiction. (Because of the adamancy of key rabbis, Rachel’s Tomb was retained in Israeli jurisdiction, and was never surrendered to the hands of the Palestinians.)
The Palestinian commitment, as you are likely aware, was never honored, and the most severe crisis with regard to this came with the desecration of Joseph’s tomb in Shechem (Nablus) in October 2000.
Just days later, on Yom Kippur in 2000, the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida ran an article marking Rachel’s Tomb as the next target: “‘the Tomb of Rachel,’ or the Bilal ibn Rabah mosque, is one of the nails the occupation government and the Zionist movement hammered into many Palestinian cities….The tomb is false and was originally a Muslim mosque.”
That was apparently the first official mention of the Tomb as a mosque.
Wrote Shragai: “Bilal ibn Rabah was an Ethiopian known in Islamic history as a slave who served in the house of the prophet Muhammad as the first muezzin (the individual who calls the faithful to prayer five times a day)…The Palestinian Authority claimed that according to Islamic tradition, it was Muslim conquerors who named the mosque erected at Rachel’s Tomb after Bilal ibn Rabah.”
A concrete lesson in the historical distortions of the Palestinians.