Time to pay up
Soon it will be clear whether Netanyahu's maneuver was an empty one, designed to buy time and ease international criticism of Israel, or whether he is ready for a compromise that will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pleased: The U.S. administration and the Arab League accepted his position and pushed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to renew direct talks with Israel "with no preconditions." Next week Netanyahu and Abbas will be guests in Washington, where they will relaunch the foundered negotiations over the final agreement and the implementation of a two-state solution.
Netanyahu got what he wanted, but now his promises are coming due. Soon it will be clear to all whether his maneuver was an empty one, designed to buy time and ease international criticism of Israeli actions in the territories, or whether he is ready for a compromise that will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. By expressing doubt at yesterday's cabinet meeting about whether there was a "genuine partner on the Palestinian side," Netanyahu showed that he is preparing an escape route from being blamed for the failure of the talks before they have even begun.
The Middle East Quartet announced that the negotiations could be completed within a year. But Netanyahu's first test will come much sooner - next month when the construction freeze in West Bank settlements ends.
The right is pressuring the prime minister to renew settlement expansion in full force, and Netanyahu is maintaining ambiguity; soon he will be forced to dispel the ambiguity and make a decision.
The choice is clear: The construction freeze must remain in place for the duration of the negotiations.
New building across the Green Line would constitute a provocation and cause the talks to fail. The flimsy excuse under which previous Israeli government expanded the settlements while conducting peace talks with the Palestinians is misleading. The truth is that these actions undermined Israel's credibility and spurred the Palestinians to reject Israel's proposals.
Netanyahu's rationale for the freeze - that it served Israel's interests by demonstrating its desire for peace - is still valid, perhaps even more so.
If the suspension of construction was necessary to get the talks started, it clearly must continue while they are underway. If Netanyahu wants his peace declarations to be believed, they must also be seen in his actions on the ground.
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