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Bibi Seeks to Calm Obama

According to this report, Bibi is looking for ways to cool the Obami’s self-induced furor over the Jerusalem housing project:

Israel is willing to carry out trust-building moves in the West Bank in order to facilitate peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday.

In a phone call between Netanyahu and Clinton, the Israeli PM reportedly conveyed a detailed list of gestures Jerusalem was willing to perform in order to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. … These measure likely include the release of Palestinian prisoners, the removal of West Bank checkpoints and perhaps even a willingness to transfer West Bank territories to PA control.

As for the housing activity that was the pretext for the spat, Jackson Diehl reports:

According to press reports in both countries, Clinton demanded in a phone call last Friday that Netanyahu reverse the decision by a local council to advance the construction of 1,600 new units in a neighborhood called Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood outside Israel’s 1967 borders. Fortunately the State Department has not confirmed that position officially — though it has now been adopted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a condition for proceeding with the talks.

Netanyahu would never take that step. First, he might be barred from doing so under Israeli law; more importantly, building new Jewish housing in Jerusalem is one of the few issues that virtually all Israelis agree on. No government would formally agree to suspend it — nor is such a suspension necessary to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Leading Israelis and Palestinians — including Abbas — have repeatedly agreed, beginning a decade ago, that as part of any final settlement Israel will annex the Jewish neighborhoods it has built in Jerusalem since 1967, as well as nearby settlements in the West Bank. In return Palestinians will exercise sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and receive compensatory land in Israel.

The Israeli hope is that rather than continue to press this self-defeating demand, Obama will accept Israeli assurances that the new neighborhood will not be constructed anytime soon; it is, in fact, two or three years from groundbreaking. Coupled to that would be an Israeli pledge to avoid publicizing further construction decisions in Jerusalem. The result would not be a freeze, but something like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for settlement.

In other words, Bibi is doing everything possible to allow the Obami to unwind from the snit they have worked themselves into over a housing issue that is, of course, entirely ignorable, as the suggested solution proves. And will he and the president meet when Bibi is in town for AIPAC, now that the president won’t be conveniently out of town? We don’t know. One hopes the president’s pique, so evident in the recent assault (the president’s “anger” was conveyed, the language of “affront” and “insult” was bantered about) will be put aside. For doesn’t the president — who’s shown himself to be particular peevish and lacking in diplomatic finesse — need to show he can make a gesture? It might be wise to bestir himself to invite Bibi over. And maybe even give him a photo op or two.

Oddly, I see no mention of trust-building moves demanded of the Palestinians after their calls to “rage” and the celebratory naming of a square after terrorist Dalal Mughrabi. Isn’t some gesture being asked of them? After all, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor assured me yesterday that “we are using our leverage.” But only with one side, for it’s foolhardy, I suppose the administration thinking goes, to actually ask anything of the Palestinians. And this is the posture going into the proximity talks — which were designed to satisfy the Palestinians who can’t bring themselves to accept Bibi’s invitation for direct talks. The infantilization of the Palestinians continues — they can’t control their own violence, so therefore we don’t demand they do. Just come to the proximity talks and George Mitchell will do all the work!

This is why no peace is ever processed. The Palestinians know that nothing is demanded of them and that they can riot in the streets, collect concessions, tout their success, foot-stomp some for more goodies, and wait for another round of concessions. Call it the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” It’s a formula for getting nowhere with the peace process. It’s also encouraging them to keep up the violence. Why shouldn’t they — there’s everything to be gained and nothing to be lost.



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