The construction in West Bank settlements is causing Israel to lose the support even of its best friends in the West, National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror was quoted as warning in recent weeks.
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According to two Israeli sources, Amidror, who spoke in closed-door discussions in the Prime Minister's Bureau, is very worried about Israel's deteriorating international standing. Several leading Western countries harshly criticized Israel's response to UN recognition of Palestine as a nonmember observer state, which included announcing new settlement construction. The bureau declined to comment.
"It's impossible to explain the issue of settlement construction anyplace in the world," Amidror was quoted as saying at one of these closed discussions. "It's impossible to explain this matter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel or even to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Construction in the settlements has become a diplomatic problem and is causing Israel to lose support even among its friends in the West."
Though Amidror has long been considered politically right-wing, in his work as national security advisor he has taken a very moderate line, based on the professional analyses done by his own staff, the Foreign Ministry and the defense establishment.
At a meeting that took place the week before the November 29 UN vote, the sources said, Amidror opposed responding with new settlement construction. He especially opposed the announcement that Israel would move forward with planning for the E-1 corridor, which links Jerusalem with the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, warning that this would provoke an international outcry.
Amidror's views are shared by Isaac Molho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's special envoy for the peace process.
Netanyahu and his advisers have recently concluded that once the new government is formed, Israel will come under heavy international pressure regarding the Palestinian issue, and especially settlement construction. Netanyahu himself compared the expected pressure to "a meat grinder." The surprise announcement that U.S. President Barack Obama will visit this spring, the plans by new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to revive the peace process, and fear of a European peace initiative or international sanctions are all part of this "meat grinder."
That is why Netanyahu plans to make great efforts to bring three centrist parties - Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah, Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid and Shaul Mofaz's Kadima - into his next government. Likud sources say Livni, a former foreign minister well-regarded overseas, would be given a position that included involvement in talks with the Palestinians.
Amidror, Molho and other advisers haven't ruled out another temporary construction freeze in isolated settlements located outside the three main blocs that Israel wants to keep (Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion). But this would be conditioned on the Palestinians' resuming negotiations and taking other steps, such as promising not to seek Israel's indictment in the International Criminal Court.
Amidror and Molho will go to Washington next week to prepare Obama's visit. Aside from the technical details, Amidror will work with the Americans on the visit's diplomatic agenda, especially on the Syrian and Iranian issues. Molho will discuss ideas for restarting the peace process.
Obama and Kerry are interested in taking another stab at the peace process, an Israeli source said, especially since Israel's recent election roused hopes that the new government will be more moderate than its predecessor. But nobody expects a breakthrough on Obama's visit, he added - an assessment confirmed by White House spokesman Jay Carney's statement yesterday that Obama won't be bringing a new peace initiative, and that the visit's goal isn't to relaunch Israel-Palestinian talks.
In a sign that the White House is trying hard to avoid tensions in the run-up to the visit, Carney evaded questions on settlement construction.