Obama and Netanyahu close to settlement construction accord – Jerusalem excluded
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Yitzhak Molcho, special adviser to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, are tying up the last ends of an understanding on West Bank settlement construction between the Obama administration and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, debkafile‘s Washington sources disclose.
The two officials have been meeting in the US capital.
Our sources report that the understanding rests on four principles:
1. Israel will maintain a freeze on new settlement construction. (This week, transport minister Eliahu Atias said that all new projects for West Bank settlements have been “on hold” in the five months since Netanyahu took office.) In the next three years, the prime minister’s office and defense ministry will only grant permits for some hundreds of building projects appearing on an agreed list. A joint US-Israeli team is now working on the final list.
2. Obama will stop demanding a total freeze.
3. The two governments agreed to disagree on construction in Jerusalem, including the eastern side, which will continue uninterrupted – as will Washington’s criticism on this point.
4. The Obama administration has made it clear that any confrontation with the Netanyahu government is undesirable; relations between the White House and PMO will henceforth revert to their normal friendly level.
The two parties also agreed that the US-Israel understanding on the settlements and their limited expansion will not be published or brought before the government in Jerusalem for endorsement.
Defense minister Ehud Barak will be the only minister with full knowledge of its contents and in Washington, only Vice President Joe Biden, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Mitchell – seven individuals in all in both capitals.
Mitchell was the live wire pushing for an accord and smoothing away the obstacles and differences, according to one Washington source. It was he who prevailed on President Obama to step away from a showdown with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu and Mitchell will finally approve the draft when they meet in London on Aug. 26, a date insisted on by Obama because he has set Sept. 10 as the deadline for his own team to finish their Middle East policy review (which was first revealed by debkafile).
The prime minister’s approach to an understanding on the settlement dispute with the US president has caused unrest among some ministers, especially in the right wing. It prompted deputy prime minister Moshe Yaalon to meet the Jewish Leadership Division, the most nationalist faction of the ruling Likud party Wednesday, Aug. 19. He was applauded when he described the opposition Peace Now group and other “Israeli elites” as “viruses” because of their antagonism to settlements and settlers.
“I hold to the position that Jews are at liberty to settle and build in every part of the Land of Israel,” he stated with emphasis.
That night, Netanyahu’s office issued a reprimand saying that the prime minister finds Yaalon’s words and style unacceptable.