The wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes about the construction freeze raises the question of whether the state is being run by a statesman or a marketplace peddler. Until recently, the media supported Netanyahu. He did what he should have done to restore President Obama's sympathy. He passed, in a mostly right-wing cabinet, the decision to freeze construction in the West Bank for 10 months and even kept his promise not to extend it "a day longer."
It had been assumed this concession would give him the required time to conduct direct talks with the Palestinians. But they, as is their custom, again proved they miss no opportunity to miss an opportunity. When the end of the 10-month freeze approached, the Palestinians demanded a two-month extension. Otherwise, they will not resume the direct talks. Why? Because that's the Palestinian leadership - painting itself into a corner and not knowing how to get out of it (we also used to be like that, more than once. We said we would not hold direct talks before terror stopped ).
And lo, after all the festive meetings in Washington, after 10 months of building freeze, now they're asking for two more months? Why? Because that's what they want. Even the Egyptian foreign minister denounced this demand as unnecessary foot-dragging.
Israel could have shown magnanimity - after all Bibi is a peace-seeker, his fans say. Instead we held out our hand like a beggar on a street corner, asking what we'd get for this extension the United States is asking of us. But the moment we agreed on the principle, to coin George Bernard Shaw's famous statement to a certain lady, we made it clear that now we are just haggling over the price.
"Confidants" of Netanyahu said Bibi would agree to extend the freeze by two months if he could present the cabinet with "an improved benefits' package it could not refuse" - increased security cooperation, more advanced defense measures - as if Israel isn't receiving almost everything it wants. There was even a suggestion to condition the additional two months' construction freeze on releasing Jonathan Pollard, a demand that sounds like pure extortion. And while we're at it, why not ask for another financial grant as well?
It is clear why the Obama administration is making such efforts to meet Bibi halfway. At least to those in the Oval Office who have access to Bibi's psychological file, where it says, in all likelihood, that he is squeezable, that he is a right-wing radical, that he is afraid to fall from power a second time - this time paving the way for Tzipi Livni to the prime minister's seat - and scared of losing the right-wing support that brought him to power.
Fresh proof of this psychological evaluation was seen in Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's blood-curdling performance in the United Nations' General Assembly. In one speech to the whole world Lieberman made mincemeat of Netanyahu's leadership, declaring that "there is no chance for a final-status arrangement either in one year or the coming years. The Palestinians don't want peace, they're only wasting time. There's no way of manufacturing an artificial peace."
He also said: "After 17 Oslo years, we should understand we're going down the wrong path."
Hard to believe any other foreign minister could undermine Israel's status like that and remain in office one more hour. But all Bibi had to say was that "the speech was not coordinated with the prime minister." Like a child who transgresses and says it wasn't me.
Ever since he declared in the Bar-Ilan speech "two states for two peoples," Bibi has been making strange moves. The strangest one was demanding the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. What do we need such "recognition" for? Israel is recognized by the UN as a Jewish state. The Palestinian state is the one that is not recognized. The UN's Partition Plan - the resolution adopted on November 29, 1947 by the General Assembly of the United Nations - established the terms "Jewish state" and "Arab state." The Palestinians are the ones who need recognition.
The whole construction freeze issue is unimportant compared with the necessity to exchange land, without which we will not achieve permanent borders and an end to the conflict. And we won't achieve this by haggling or with a government in which the Liebermans set the tone.