Who would have thought that the son of Benzion Netanyahu would utter the words "two states for two peoples"? Who would have believed that Benjamin Netanyahu would get the settler minister Avigdor Lieberman to agree to a settlement freeze? Ever since Netanyahu replaced Ehud Olmert as prime minister, there has been a significant decrease in the number of roadblocks in the West Bank. Peace Now reports that Housing and Construction Ministry tenders for housing beyond the Green Line are at a low. So why are the Europeans now plotting to divide Jerusalem (even though they never recognized its unification)? Why have the Russians vetoed the Quartet proposal to issue a statement of support for the freeze Israel has imposed? What do they want from Bibi?
The answer lies in statements Netanyahu made Thursday to settler leaders protesting the temporary settlement freeze. "This move makes it clear to key players around the world that Israel is serious in its intentions to achieve peace, while the Palestinians refuse to enter negotiations for peace," the prime minister told the anxious guests. And to remove all doubt, he added: "There is a side that wants [to talk] and another that does not. This move has made clear who is refusing peace." In other words, we want to get out of the occupied territory, but the Palestinians insist that we stay.
Netanyahu has in essentially confirmed that he knew in advance that a limited settlement freeze wouldn't bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. He could have bet that Abbas wouldn't accept less than what the road map gave the Palestinians more than six years ago: a total freeze that includes natural growth and the immediate dismantling of all outposts established since March 2001. You don't have to be the head of Military Intelligence to expect that no Arab leader would take part in a move that recognizes, or even implies, Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. That's just what Abbas needs before Hamas celebrates the expected release of 980 "heroes" in the streets of the West Bank and Gaza.
Netanyahu apologized to the settlers by explaining that the cabinet made the decision because of the "complex diplomatic situation" - meaning the freeze was meant to shake off U.S. President Barack Obama. As a bonus, it will get the Labor rebels to stop pressuring Defense Minister Ehud Barak and will improve the government's ability to survive. What we have, therefore, is another episode of the "No Partner" show (have we already mentioned that the Palestinians don't miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity?). We got a good deal and managed to roll the ball into our rival's court. Hallelujah!
What has Israel gained from freezing settlement construction? The perpetuation of the conflict with the Palestinians, another round in the battle with the settlers, and bitter disappointment for Obama.
For the first time, the Quartet has disagreed with American support for Israel, while Europe is making East Jerusalem a priority and the United States is failing to demand that Arab countries take steps toward normalized ties with Israel as compensation for the settlement freeze.
The freeze (if it does indeed go into effect) will harm thousands of citizens, mostly young couples, who purchased apartments in settlements on the seam line that are supposed to fall under Israeli sovereignty in a land swap. As always, taxpayers will bear the cost of compensation payments.
The cabinet resolution has renewed public awareness of the Green Line and shunted aside former U.S. president George W. Bush's recognition of the legitimacy of Jewish population concentrations in the West Bank. Abbas himself has ignored construction in the settlement blocs and even outside of them.
The Palestinian Authority president was convinced that the Israeli prime minister was genuinely interested in reaching a suitable final-status agreement.
Had Netanyahu invited Abbas to continue negotiations from the point at which they were halted a year ago, contractors would have been able to build in Ma'aleh Adumim today.
Had Netanyahu genuinely committed to a two-state solution, he would have formed a new government on the basis of the roadmap and a regional peace plan.
Had the prime minister been a visionary statesman, he would have invited Kadima's Tzipi Livni for a heart-to-heart talk, instead of inviting the Yesha Council's Pinhas Wallerstein for a reconciliation meeting. It's difficult to believe that after less than a year in office, Bibi is making us miss Olmert.
See also <"http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1065578.html">Ariel Zilber / Ehud Olmert, we will miss you
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