Israel’s settlement freeze – no carte blanche for attacking Iran
In his eight months in office, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has gone back on his fundamental pledges as Likud leader to disallow Palestinian statehood, expand Jewish West Bank settlement, reject one-sided Israeli concessions to the Palestinians prior to negotiations and act firmly to oust Hamas rule of the Gaza Strip.
This week, he sent uniformed cops and troops to hand out a pile of freeze notices to his core constituency, Jewish West Bank communities. Resistance was fairly restrained but will no doubt escalate in coming weeks.
Some see the prime minister setting down markers for the locations he will eventually cede. But most Israelis distrust him for giving away assets for no return and then failing to win credit for the gesture from Palestinians, Arabs or Europeans, who continue to slam the Jewish state regardless.
In a showdown with these the settlement leaders Thursday, Dec. 2, Netanyahu assured them that the building suspension across the Green Line (not applied in Jerusalem) was essential “in the broad light of Israel’s overall interests.”
The trouble is that every time the Israeli prime minister backs down from a promise, he implies the need to do Washington’s bidding for the sake of its support for military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
If that pretext does not work, he maintains that his one-sided gesture is essential to ward off the third Palestinian uprising.
Neither argument is acceptable because, as debkafile‘s analysts demonstrate, they do not hold water:
Firstly, there is no correlation between halting West Bank construction and action to thwart a nuclear-armed Iran. Netanyahu has meekly lined up with America’s diplomatic engagement policy for Iran, even though it has proved ineffectual. In fact, Tehran has made greater strides towards this goal since Netanyahu took office than at any time in the last decade. (debkafile reported Friday, Dec. 3, that Iran is revealed by German intelligence to have successfully simulated the detonation of a nuclear warhead, overcoming its last major obstacle to weapons development.)
The vague impression he and defense minister Ehud Barak generate that Israel is about to launch an attack on Iran remains to be borne out. But no one honestly believes that a halt in the construction of 100 extra rooms in Alon Moreh or a dozen apartments for newly-weds in Maale Adummim will make any difference to decisions in Washington, Tehran or even Jerusalem.
The fact is that the Obama administration like its predecessor is flat against an Israeli military initiative – even if it means letting Iran go ahead and develop a bomb – for fear that Iran will send its retaliatory missiles flying against Israel and American interests in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East and drag the US inexorably into the conflict.
The only concession US president Barack Obama offered the Israeli prime minister when they talked on Nov. 7 was his consent to leave the military option on the table, just like George W. Bush. This was a far cry from support for an Israeli operation or an American strike against Iran. It put the Israeli government in the position of having to make up its own mind about striking Iran’s military nuclear industry and taking responsibility for its actions – or inaction.
Secondly, the proposition recently embraced by Netanyahu that it is up to Israel to make the running and prove to the world that it wants peace with the Palestinians, is not only at odds with his pledge never to give something for nothing , but irrelevant.
Israel’s international standing was not improved by its 2005 pullout from the Gaza Strip (Full disengagement was a fiction.); this is not disputed by any Israel political faction. Did Netanyahu’s acceptance of Palestinian statehood help redress the imbalance? Just the reverse: Israel’s international image has been further wasted, witness the one-sided Goldstone war crimes report on the Gaza war and Sweden’s push for the European Union to declare East Jerusalem with its millennia of Jewish history the Palestinian national capital.
Thirdly, Netanyahu never seems to tire of inviting the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to sit down and talk peace, while defense minister Barak thumps on the table each time he says: “We have to go back to negotiations and bring a Palestinian state into being!”
Both are deaf to the total silence which greets their words from the Palestinians and Arab capitals.
And no wonder: Why should the Palestinians come running when they can expect a unilateral Israeli concession to be delivered on their doorsteps roughly every three months? Rejectionism pays them huge dividends.
Anyway, Abbas is no longer empowered to speak for the Palestinians. His tenure is up and his legitimacy ended – as the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip keep on reminding him.
Moreover, his own Fatah party’s sixth conference in Bethlehem in August 13. 2009 deliberately shut the door on negotiations by re-endorsing charter section 19 which affirms: “Armed struggle is a strategy not a tactic. The armed revolution of the Arab Palestinian people is a crucial element in the battle for liberation and for the elimination of the Zionist presence. This struggle will not stop until the Zionist entity is eliminated and Palestine is liberated.”
Another conference decision was: “There must be absolute opposition, from which there is no withdrawal, to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, in order to protect the refugees’ rights…”
Abbas threatens to resign because he is tied hand and foot. The efforts of well-intentioned Americans and Europeans to persuade him to stay would amount to acceptance of the extremist Palestinian injunctions inhibiting him from coming to terms with Israel.
Netanyahu has quietly stopped demanding Israel’s recognition as a Jewish state – and much good it has done! He has made the Palestinians another major gift for which neither they nor the West has credited Israel: The West Bank is undergoing its first economic boom for the first time since the post-1967 war period.
With the rest of the world on its uppers, how come the West Bank, which has never developed much of an industrial or financial infrastructure, is flourishing? And all of a sudden, the gripes about Israel’s stifling embargo against the Gaza Strip have faded.
The answer is Netanyahu’s “economic peace,” which is going forward with US and European assistance in both Palestinian territories (in different ways), on the premise that giving the Palestinian populations better lives will douse their appetites for violence.
debkafile‘s sources disclose that Israel is pumping hundreds of millions of shekels a month into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad running the show from Ramallah.
The truth is that if the Netanyahu government were to earmark these sums to the Jordan Valley, the large settlement blocs, Galilee or the Negev, they too would thrive instead of counting their jobless.
For that reason and others, the decision to suspend settlement construction for 10 months initiated by Netanyahu and Barak is deeply unpopular.
Never has an Israeli government dared to usurp the authority of duly elected,legally empowered mayors and local officials of any community, least of all by using conscripted soldiers to enforce what is seen as a political decision. They were not given a hearing before men in uniform stripped them of their executive powers to authorize construction, development and roadbuilding.
Their communities were established by previous governments on both sides of the political spectrum in consideration of UN Security Council Resolution 242 which promised Israel “secure and agreed borders” in any withdrawal from territory captured after Jordan went to war with Israel in 1967.
The national consensus that some of these communities were there to stay did not stop the inspectors from carrying their freeze orders to such places as the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, Beitar Ilit and Modiin’s outer suburbs, bringing the measure almost within sight of Jerusalem itself.
A group of mayors Friday, Dec. 4, challenged the legality of the freeze and the way it was enforced in a petition to the High Court of Justice. Netanyahu prepared his defense by hurriedly establishing a panel headed by two of his ministers, Barak and Benny Begin, to study the settlers’ grievances.
While losing traction at home, the Netanyahu government appears to have lost its way on the broader strategic front for lack of consistency and a firm conceptual grip on reality.