Israeli cabinet expected to accept Obama's building freeze deal

Monday, November 15, 2010 |  Ryan Jones  

Israel’s 15-member security cabinet is, according to local media estimates, expected to support by a margin of one vote a proposal that Israel impose another Jewish building freeze in exchange for certain gifts from the US.

It is unclear when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring the proposal before the cabinet for a vote, and Netanyahu has noted that the details are still not final.

But thus far, Israel is being asked to halt Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria (excluding Jerusalem) for a period of 90 days in order facilitate a resumption of direct peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. In return, the Obama Administration will:

  1. Take more seriously Israel’s security demands;
  2. Use its veto power at the UN to block a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence and other resolutions aimed at delegitimizing Israel;
  3. Protect Israel from the scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency; and
  4. Provide Israel, free of charge, with an additional 20 F-35 joint strike fighter jets.
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Israel’s defense establishment is excited by the prospects of immediately fielding a second squadron of F-35s, but nationalist lawmakers are wary of international trickery.

The two cabinet members of the religious Shas Party have suggested they will support the proposal, or at least abstain from voting, if Obama also provides a written guarantee that the building freeze will not include Jerusalem, and that there will be no further requested building freezes should the Palestinians not respond favorably.

Other right-wing cabinet members are threatening to bring down Netanyahu’s government over the proposal. They note that this is no different than the last building freeze, which the Palestinian leadership manipulated to make Israel look like the bad guy by waiting until the last minute to restart peace talks and then leaving the table because of renewed Jewish construction.

Historically speaking, that position is accurate. Past guarantees by the international community that Israeli concessions would give it the moral upper hand and put the ball in the Palestinians’ court have always proved to be worthless.

The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, said it was shocked by the proposal, but refrained from criticizing Obama directly.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters that not including Jerusalem in the building freeze is a non-starter for the Palestinians, as is the limited timeframe of the freeze.

Both Israeli and Palestinian commentators wondered how Obama thought this was going to work without fully imposing Palestinian demands on Israel. Without a permanent Jewish building freeze that includes the eastern half of Jerusalem, the Palestinians are screaming that they just aren’t interested in peace talks. For some reason, Obama is not listening.

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