Obama thaw on Israeli settlement construction follows Iran setback, Saudi brush-off

The Obama administration signalled a new mood of compromise on settlement construction just ahead of the key talks in New York between Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak and prime minister’s adviser Yitzhak Molcho and US envoy George Mitchell Tuesday, June 30.
While the Israeli delegation was still airborne, the US state department spokesman Ian Kelly said: “We’ve been working with all the parties to try and come up with… an environment conducive to the resumption of negotiations. I’m not going to prejudge what happens tomorrow.”
Asked by reporters if that meant the US administration was ready to compromise and accept a suspension of settlement activity instead of a total halt, Kelly said that some level of flexibility was part of the negotiation process.
“Working our way to our resolution, I’m not going to say we’re not going to compromise. Let’s just see what happens.”
At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “I don’t want to get ahead of some very important meetings tomorrow between Ehud Barak and George Mitchell, except to say that we’re optimistic about making progress.”
debkafile‘s political analysts attribute this large crack in US president Barack Obama’s unswerving push for a total halt on settlement activity on the West Bank to four new developments:
1. The prospect of direct US-Iranian dialogue on the nuclear issue has vanished into the blue yonder as relations go from bad to worse in the aftermath of Iran’s disputed presidential election. A tough US stance against Israel as a bargaining chip with Iran is no longer relevant.
2. Saudi Arabia has made it clear that even if the Netanyahu government surrenders to the US demand for a total halt in settlement activity, Arab concessions will not be forthcoming. There will be no visas for Israeli tourists or permission for Israeli airliners heading east to transit Saudi skies.
The Obama administration had factored Arab reciprocity into its campaign to halt Israel’s settlement activity. When it was denied, the White House saw no point in continuing to lean on Israel.
3. More and more former Bush administration officials are challenging the administration’s insistent denial of Bush administration understandings with Israel on settlement expansion to accommodate natural growth. These officials emphasize that the understandings exist both orally and in writing.
4. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, backed by government and popular majority, stuck to his guns and resisted Barack Obama’s demand to halt settlement activity of any kind.
Monday, June 29, the Washington Post offered three reasons for the White House’s decision to ease up on its “absolutist” position:
“First, it has allowed Palestinian and Arab leaders to withhold the steps they were asked for… Second, the administration’s objective… is unobtainable… No Israeli government has ever agreed to an unconditional freeze and no coalition could be assembled… to impose one. Finally, the extraction of a freeze from Netanyahu is, as a practical matter unnecessary… both the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have gone along with previous US-Israeli deals by which construction was to be limited to inside the periphery of settlements near Israel – since everyone knows those areas will be annexed to Israel in a final settlement…”
In view of the US administration’s newfound flexibility on the settlement issue, Israeli government circles see the tables turned and the American squeeze deflected to coercing the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table.
Egypt has set July 7 as the deadline for the warring Palestinian factions – Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah and the Islamist Hamas which rules Gaza – to get their act together and achieve a united national front ahead of peace talks with Israel.
Netanyahu, after accepting the two-state principle, pulling Israeli troops out of four Palestinian towns, thinning out West Bank roadblocks and making his point to Washington on the settlement freeze, is ready to invite the opposition Kadima party and its leader, Tzipi Livni, to join a national unity government under his rule.
Foreign minister Avigdor Liebermann and his nationalist Israeli Beitenu party might present an obstacle. Therefore, some political circles in Jerusalem assign the anonymous leak to the media Monday, June 29, which cited French president Nicolas Sarkozy as bluntly advising Netanyahu when they met at the Elysee last week to get rid of Avigdor Lieberman and replace him with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, as a prod for Lieberman to step aside.

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