He didn't know or didn't want to
Why don't they ever tell the prime minister what's happening in Jerusalem? A few weeks ago, Benjamin Netanyahu read in the newspaper about the plan to build apartments for Jews in the Shepherd's Hotel compound in Sheikh Jarrah. What does he have to do with real estate deals in Jerusalem? Then, someone spread a rumor among journalists that he was planning to visit the new tunnel the Elad association built in the Silwan neighborhood, when all they were talking about was a little get-together of his aides in some obscure restaurant in the City of David (the Hebrew name for Silwan). Why should he know the reason the Shin Bet security service closed off the area at noon? And now, we have the Gilo affair. The prime minister heard of planned 900 housing units there from a question asked by a Yediot Aharonot reporter.
According to the prime minister's bureau itself, the question about Gilo arrived there after American Middle East envoy George Mitchell asked Netanyahu's envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, to postpone the discussion of the plan in the regional building committee. Is it possible the report about so important an issue was given to Yediot's Shimon Schiffer before it was placed on the prime minister's desk?
By the way, the Americans, who know how sensitive Netanyahu is about "the rock of our existence," very much wanted to close the matter discreetly. Not only were the officials in Washington surprised by the press attention, but they were also fuming about the response from Jerusalem - "Don't you tell us what to do in our capital."
Apart from the fact that "Bibi was surprised" - and we all know he has nothing but good intentions - he could not do anything about it. The interior minister and even the prime minister, with all due respect, is not authorized, Bibi explained, to intervene in the agenda of a statutory body like a planning and building committee. A committee protocol from July 21 shows this claim, to put it mildly, is not exact. The agenda included the approval of the Jerusalem 2000 plan, the city's comprehensive master plan. Paragraph 7 states it was decided to postpone discussion after the director general of the Interior Ministry, with the minister's acquiescence, asked the committee chairman to do so.
Kobi Kahalon, who chairs the local planning and building committee, told members of the regional committee that Interior Minister Eli Yishai had also approached Mayor Nir Barkat to ask that the master plan be held back "in order to check a number of claims raised."
Those claims came mainly from people with right-wing sympathies who said the plan was too favorable to the residents of East Jerusalem, who lost a third of their land when it was appropriated for the benefit of Jewish neighborhoods like Gilo.
There is at least one precedent for the political echelon's intervening in the regional council's agenda in Jerusalem. The Americans are familiar with this precedent, so their suspicion that Netanyahu is still the same old Bibi is understandable. Twelve years ago, in the midst of the crisis around the establishment of Har Homa, Netanyahu told Dennis Ross, then president Clinton's envoy, "Between Jerusalem and the American administration, I will choose Jerusalem."
Who is in favor of Hamas?
The question of why only now will no doubt be raised once Gilad Shalit returns home safely. Was it necessary for this young soldier to rot in confinement for so many long months? For the same price, more or less, and perhaps exactly, Hamas would have freed Gilad long ago. Who wins and who loses from the deal today? Dr. Mati Steinberg, who was adviser on Palestinian affairs to three heads of the Shin Bet security service, answers without hesitation - the winner is Hamas and the loser is Fatah, headed by Mahmoud Abbas. The bigger winner is Iran and the biggest loser is Israel.
The Jerusalem-based Middle East expert stresses it was long possible to free Shalit "and [it] should have been done without upsetting the balance of power among the Palestinians in favor of Hamas. Steinberg predicted Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak would pull out the Shalit card as soon as there was a crisis in the diplomatic process. At a closed conference two weeks ago in Shefayim, Steinberg said both of them had given up on the attempt to solve the conflict with Fatah in favor of continuing with Hamas.
Steinberg forecast that the release of hundreds of Hamas prisoners would lead to the immediate resignation of Abu Mazen and perhaps also to the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority. He assessed that the crisis around Abu Mazen's announcement that he would not run for another term of office, the postponement of the elections and the stalemate in the diplomatic process would encourage Hamas to make the Shalit deal.
What's missing? Merely a hug for the hero of the Fatah youth, Marwan Barghouti, from the man wanted by the Mossad, Khaled Meshal, in the presidential palace in Damascus. In an Al-Hayat interview last week, Barghouti spoke in glowing terms of a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The "prisoners' document" that he initiated in 2006 calls for the return of the 1948 refugees to their homes.
Asked why the government decided to pay the price precisely now, Steinberg returns with some questions:
Why just now did Israel decide to hand over the village of Ghajar to the Lebanese? Why is the Syrian channel being brought back to the headlines? What led Netanyahu precisely now to revive the conflict with President Barack Obama around East Jerusalem?
Steinberg has an answer: to distract attention from the burial of the partner to a two-state agreement. No less.