Some have surmised that President Obama’s request for a 60-day extension of Israel’s settlement moratorium — combined with a promise not to request any further extensions — is simply a transparent attempt to avoid an embarrassing collapse of the peace process a month before U.S. elections. But Leslie Susser reports that Benjamin Netanyahu has a “major strategic concern” regarding the request:
According to confidants, [Netanyahu] fears that as soon as any new 60-day freeze ends, the Americans will put a “take it or leave it peace plan” of their own on the table. With the U.S. midterm elections over, Obama might feel able to publicly present parameters for a peace deal that Netanyahu would find impossible to accept.
Israel might then find itself totally isolated and under intolerable international pressure. That is a scenario Netanyahu hopes the current negotiations with the Americans will help him avoid.
The continuing failure of the Obama administration to endorse the 2004 Bush letter — a document negotiated at great length, line by line, between the U.S. and Israel, and then endorsed by both houses of Congress in a concurrent resolution, and then relied upon by Israel both in approving and proceeding with the Gaza withdrawal – is obviously one of the causes for Netanyahu’s concern. The proposed Obama letter lacks assurances to Israel of the “defensible borders” to which both the Bush and Clinton administrations committed the United States (as well as the other commitments memorialized in the Bush letter).
Susser writes that the U.S. might have to “sweeten the pot” to secure the approval of the seven-member Israeli “Septet,” the 19-member Israeli Security Cabinet, and the full 29-member Cabinet, all of which currently oppose the proposed deal. What is necessary, however, is not simply a “sweetened pot” but an acknowledgment of obligations the U.S. has already incurred.
And there is an even more fundamental point involved: a peace agreement that does not involve defensible borders will be one that repositions the parties for another war. As Elliott Abrams wrote in August, the 1967 lines will not produce peace, and those who back away from the idea of defensible borders are “making a huge mistake.”