Although the details are not public knowledge — or perhaps they have not been finalized — a ‘temporary’ freeze on new Jewish construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is in effect. Israeli PM Netanyahu will be meeting with US envoy George Mitchell on Aug. 26 to discuss this, among other issues.
Despite the fact that the Israeli government is presenting this as an expedient ‘to get peace talks moving’, there are several implications that cannot be ignored. Keep in mind that this comes immediately after the Fatah congress, in which the Palestinian faction with whom Israel is expected to negotiate has shown itself to be committed to hardline policies which will keep such ‘peace talks’ from getting anywhere. So what does the freeze tell us?
- It shows that Israel cannot or will not say no to the US. Netanyahu has no illusions about the possibility of fruitful talks, and he understands the domestic political difficulties of agreeing to freeze Jewish construction everywhere in the area occupied by Jordan from 1948-67, including East Jerusalem. And yet he agreed.
- It weakens Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. By agreeing to the demand, Israel compromises its position, expressed in the Basic Law–Jerusalem of 1980, that Jerusalem is an integral part of Israel.
- It sets the stage for a further collision with the US when, in 2010 or whenever, the ‘temporary’ period is up and there still has not been substantive progress in negotiations.
- It illustrates the asymmetry fundamental to the US conception of a ‘two-state solution’. Although Arab citizens of Israel increasingly consider themselves ‘Palestinians’, suggestions for a freeze on Arab construction within Israel, or — God forbid — Arabs being encouraged to move to the Palestinian state, are considered racist. But Palestinian demands that Jews evacuate the West Bank and East Jerusalem are tacitly approved by the US.
- It encourages the Palestinians and their allies to press for more concessions as preconditions for talks. Obama has already asked for a minimal gesture from the Arabs as a quid-pro-quo for the settlement freeze and so far has gotten nothing.
One wonders if there have been other concessions — for example, regarding construction of the security barrier — that have not attracted attention yet.
Update [26 Aug 0925 PDT]: See “Will Israel not build barrier for Obama?” in today’s Jerusalem Post.