Israel’s mainstream media reported at the weekend that while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to keep his promise to not officially extend the Jewish building freeze in Judea and Samaria past its September 26th expiration date, he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are looking for other means of preventing the construction of new Jewish homes.
Both Netanyahu and Barak know that extending the self-imposed 10-month building freeze as per Palestinian demands would likely result in the toppling of the government. A majority of Israelis, and a large number of Knesset members, oppose extending the freeze.
But Netanyahu and Barak also know that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, like his mentor and predecessor Yasser Arafat, is looking for any excuse to quit the current peace talks and blame the lack of a final status agreement on Israel.
Abbas has repeatedly stated that if the freeze is not extended indefinitely, he will walk.
An Israeli official cited by Ha’aretz said that Barak may use the Defense Ministry to create a de facto Jewish building freeze. The Defense Ministry must approve all building projects in Judea and Samaria, as those areas have never officially been annexed as part of Israel proper.
Barak met with top American officials in Washington on Saturday. The official said Barak hoped that tying up Jewish building projects indefinitely would be enough for Washington to convince Abbas to remain at the negotiating table.
The one hitch in their plan is Jerusalem. Abbas not only wants the freeze extended, but wants it to also include the eastern half of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future capital.
The eastern half of Jerusalem is home to hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews living in large neighborhoods where construction is always going on. It would be very obvious if that construction suddenly came to a halt, and the nation would be in an uproar over Netanyahu effectively ceding Israel’s claim to a united Jerusalem.
The Palestinian leadership is certainly pleased with this predicament, as it will ultimately force the Obama Administration to either give up on overseeing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, or strong-arm Israel into dividing Jerusalem.
Given that choice, what do you think Obama will do?