US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley marked the formal resumption of Israel-Palestinian peace talks Sunday, May 9, with praise for the steps taken by both leaders to get the process started, noting that "…from Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu… there would be no more construction at the Ramat Shlomo settlement in East Jerusalem for two years."
As a result, Palestinians are celebrating their success in manipulating the Obama administration into squeezing concessions out of Israel even before the talks begin – and on Jerusalem, no less.
Given Netanyahu's dogged insistence that there would be no Israel concessions on Jerusalem, its undivided capital, even after Vice President Joe Biden's unfortunate visit to Jerusalem in March, three hard questions demand answers:
1. If the Israeli prime minister can't stand by his solemn pledges to Israel and the Jewish people on Jerusalem, how much credibility can be attributed his other statements?
2. Is he made of tough enough material to withstand pressures, or does he have a built-in tendency to surrender when the going is rough?
3. This answer is critical when applied to matters of national security, such as the threats from Hizballah and a nuclear-armed Iran.
The pretext offered by his aides that giving ground on Ramat Shlomo cost nothing because the pre-planning process requires another two years at least does not hold water. From his own and his predecessors' experience, Netanyahu must know that every concession on a question of principle opens the door to bullying for more. It will now be clear to all that if he cannot stand the heat on Jerusalem, he will fold again in September when the West Bank settlement freeze is up and find good reason to let it run on and on.
Netanyahu manifested weakness by never once hitting back at the unbridled and offensive assaults thrown at Israel and him personally by members of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat and Abd Rabbo in the last two days. He ignored the insults and welcomed the PLO decision to endorse the resumption of peace talks over which Abbas stalled for 15 months, mildly hoping there would be no more preconditions.
He even abstained even from calling for Palestinian officials to watch their language, least of all threaten to stay away from the table until they stopped their incitement.
Netanyahu likewise has nothing to say to the abuse heaped on Israel by Iranian leaders and pro-Palestinian elements in the West, some of it rabidly anti-Semitic.
Silence is not a policy. At best, it is a tactic of survival and at worst, presents the appearance of timidity. In either case, he has left Israel wide open to more arm-twisting on its most fundamental interests.