By Larry Gordon
The headline states the problem in a nutshell. In the negotiations now taking place in an effort to restart the negotiations between Israel and the always-deceptive Palestinian Authority, the PA is again demanding that Israel place a freeze on settlement-building in Judea and Samaria and in eastern Jerusalem. But the best that Israel is willing to do is to “restrain,” or let’s translate that as slow down, building as a gesture to the U.S. and the Arabs’ unquenchable thirst for Israeli concessions.
Now, most of these unreasonable demands, which were supported to a great extent by the U.S., have flown out the window with the declaration of a unity agreement on Wednesday between Fatah and the terror-dominated Hamas, which controls Gaza.
As those who follow these events are well aware, the settlement freeze was a new condition for the continuation of talks. From the outset back in July, Israel for some reason was offered a choice of “goodwill gestures” to present to the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas in order to entice him to talk about peace with Israel and the U.S. It has become clear over the last few weeks that there is little basis for these talks and it is difficult to understand why they have been continuing. If it is inevitable that they come to a failed conclusion, then Israel should delay no longer and should begin to deal with the reality of the new situation—as it seems to have begun doing by suspending the talks on Thursday in response to Wednesday’s agreement.
Additionally puzzling is why the Obama administration, which was the catalyst of this latest round of negotiations, cannot just simply do what it does best: that is, declare the failed talks and the irreconcilable differences between the two entities a success, and move on from there.
It is not as though there is no precedent for that type of move. For example, just the other day President Obama declared the Affordable Care Act a great success even though there is an abundance of evidence to the contrary. And very recently, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that talks with Iran on denying the Iranians a nuclear weapon were a success, even though the Iranians proceed with little restraint in that direction. Kerry explained that by virtue of the talks slowing down Iran in its drive to nuclear capability—even by six months—the talks have been a success. That is, although the Iranians may have the ability to someday soon launch nuclear weapons, any delay in that ability that could be used to destroy Israel, or at least threaten to do so, is a great success, even if it ultimately doesn’t stop them. In other words, the operation was a success, but the patient died.
So Israel’s offer to “restrain settlement-building” might be a chapter from this same book. Bear in mind that at the outset Israel was offered a choice—either release 104 Palestinian murderers or freeze settlements. Israel obviously chose the release of the killers, despite the controversy surrounding the move. The thought process is rather elementary. Freezing settlements does not work and impinges on hundreds of thousands of families now residing in those areas. As far as releasing murderers, they can always be rearrested or otherwise picked up (or picked off) at a later date if need be.
So now that the PA has demonstrated new obduracy, Israel was cajoled into sweetening the pot by the U.S.—that was, until the new reality set in the other day. One of the new ingredients is to not freeze but restrain settlement-building, which can be done in any number of different ways. One of the ideas posited on these pages a while ago was to curtail or slow down building on settlement communities by having construction workers report to work a half-hour later each day and leave their job sites a half-hour earlier on each workday. This obviously slows down the progress of projects, and in the new diplomatic haze in which Secretary Kerry works, this can be touted as progress in the talks between the two sides.
Clearly it is new thinking that can only come out of a Washington dominated by an Obama-type administration. The question is—do the American people understand what is going on? While the U.S. image in the world is continually tarnished and our stature diminished, the Obama–Kerry team views these backward slides as successes. And therein lie today’s problems.
I would like to suggest that the Palestinians have not lost patience with the Israelis as much as they have been boondoggled by the U.S. approach. At the same time, I think Israel is beginning to get it. That is the U.S. need to play for time, extend deadlines that are meaningless to begin with, set up meetings, take photographs, and then declare that by virtue of the fact that a meeting took place, progress has been made. And don’t discount the idea that this may happen again soon.
And now that we are beginning to understand the new thinking, we can gauge the progress along the same lines. Today the goal of the Israel–PA talks is to get the two parties to talk to one another. That would effectively be “significant progress” between the two sides. I think we are able to comprehend the Obama administration approach to these types of situations much better. The two sides can refuse to talk to one another or even scoff at each other, but that is better than no meeting or no scoffing.
This is similar in fashion to the president’s handling of the ongoing situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the latter’s designs on Russian domination of the Ukraine. When Putin first disregarded American admonitions about taking over Crimea and moved his forces into position to take over more territory, President Obama said that the maneuvers by Putin were a sign of weakness. In Obamaland, the more Putin flexes his military muscle, the more he is really demonstrating weakness.
Applying the same twisted logic and allegorical thinking to Israel, if the Jewish state would only have the power and courage to extricate a half-million people from their homes in Judea and Samaria as well as eastern Jerusalem and hand those areas over to the terror-oriented Palestinians, that would be a show of admirable strength. Not being more forthcoming with the Arabs, not withdrawing from these areas, not arming the PA police and future military, and now hesitating to transfer over hundreds of millions of tax dollars to the PA—these are all signs of Israel’s weakness.
The Talmud in Bava Basra relates the following: “A remark was made by Joseph the son of R’ Joshua. He had been ill and fell in a trance. [After he recovered], his father said to him: ‘What vision did you have?’ He replied, ‘I saw a world upside down, the upper below and the lower above.’”
Unbeknown to Mr. Kerry and company, they seem to be purveyors of this “upside down” concept, albeit with ulterior and unbalanced motivations.
With another of the so-called negotiations deadline looming on April 29, the talks are once again heading into serious crisis mode. Mahmoud Abbas is demanding, amongst other things, that Israel freeze settlement construction as a gesture. Israel has curiously offered to instead “restrain” the ongoing construction. Hopefully, the negotiators and facilitators of the process will take into consideration that over the last two weeks building was slowed down considerably due to the observance of the chag of Pesach. Once that type of “restraint” is noted accordingly, Israel should get credit for slowing down the process. Going forward on construction in Judea and Samaria—especially in view of the latest revelation of Mr. Abbas’s true intentions—it should be full speed ahead. v
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