In the Knesset plenum on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a new formula for resolving the disagreement concerning the building moratorium in the settlements: The Palestinians will declare they recognize Israel as a Jewish state and he will ask the government to approve "an additional suspension of construction."
Netanyahu explained that recognition of the Jewish character of the state of Israel is essential for building the Israeli public's trust in their Palestinian neighbors.
Transparent distraction maneuvers like this undermine trust in the prime minister's intentions. Freezing the settlements is not a gesture deserving of recompense from the Palestinian side; it is a formal commitment the government of Israel took upon itself seven years ago under the road map for peace.
The other side of the equation was a Palestinian commitment to take the measures necessary for stopping terror. American security teams are operating in the territories and even top people in the Israeli security establishment are expressing satisfaction with the functioning of the security mechanisms under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority.
In his speech Netanyahu said that several weeks ago he had already proposed this deal to the Palestinians and they rejected it. He undoubtedly knows that at the Annapolis summit, which was held at the end of 2007, the Palestinians also refused to include the issue of the Jewish identity of the state of Israel in the announcement of the renewal of the direct negotiations. Most probably he expected that the Palestinian leadership would not accept a deal offering a temporary freeze in return for a concession on a supremely fundamental and emotional issue, which has its place in the discussion of the core issues.
As Netanyahu told his colleagues in the Likud Knesset faction shortly before his speech, Israel has interests no less important than expanding the settlements in the West Bank. And there is no more important interest than ensuring the Jewish and democratic identity of the state. To that end, the prime minister must stop the wholesale haggling over consolation prizes with the president of the United States and devote all his energy to bringing about the solution of two states for two peoples.
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