Thursday, August 6, 2009

New U.S. Plan: Israel Would Offer to Freeze Construction if the Arabs Take Steps Also

Barak Ravid of Haaretz, who obviously has a leak from Israeli government officials, reports that U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell has proposed that Israel give a “deposit,” that is a commitment to stop construction on West Bank settlements for one year. There’s also discussion about whether this would include 2500 units currently under construction.

The idea is that the United States will then take this to Arab countries and try to get something for Israel, if it fails, Israel doesn’t have to implement the commitment.

This seems like a reasonable plan—certainly to those approving it in Washington—and it is a step forward for two reasons: the commitment is limited and Israel doesn’t have to do it if the Arabs don’t reciprocate.

According to Ravid, who probably knows what he’s talking about, Israeli leaders countered with a six-month offer.

Such a step shouldn’t do much or even any harm to Israel’s interests and would show cooperation with the United States, which should earn points with the administration. Indeed, since it is hugely unlikely that the Arab or Palestinian side will reciprocate, Israel can agree with no cost at all.

One can almost hear Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, in an outraged voice, saying that no concession should be given until after a freeze on all construction. Meanwhile he would be thinking: Of course, not even then! Why? Because he wants unilateral Israeli concessions until he gets everything he wants without giving up anything.

The Saudis and the Egyptians and Gulf Arabs won’t go along with any material steps toward normalization with Israel because they fear their neighbors and their own masses, plus the fact that they want the United States to pressure Israel and that they benefit from the status quo.

The way they figure it: If we say no, the United States won’t punish us and will go back to pressuring Israel alone.

There are two problems here from Israel’s viewpoint. First, who determines what is sufficient reciprocity? Israel must decide for itself whether the purported Arab step is sufficient.

Second, the word “deposit” brings back bad memories of the Clinton administration. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was asked for a “deposit.” He would say: If Israel were to withdraw from the entire Golan Heights, what would Syria do? Syria first refused to answer and then insisted—which it still does to this day—that Israel has already agreed to give up all the territory and that’s the point at which negotiations must start.

In other words, the last time the United States asked Israel for a “deposit” Israel was betrayed. Since the Obama administration can’t even remember the commitments the previous Bush administration gave to Israel it no doubt doesn’t recall this story, but it should be reminded.

While from Israel’s standpoint the offer—at least as reported—isn’t so bad—it is terrible for the interests of the United States. Here again goes the Obama administration committing itself to a plan which is obviously doomed to fail and which will eat up six months or so of intensive work at the administration’s highest level.

On Arab-Israeli issues, such a time-wasting effort might well keep the administration out of trouble. The same pattern applied to the Iran nuclear issue, however, is leading toward disaster.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.