Commentary

The U.S. Offer to Israel: An Act of Desperation or Audacity?

Middle East In Focus

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Faced with the prospects of a yet another failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Obama administration indicated last week that it was willing to provide a number of incentives to the Israeli government in return for a 90 day freeze in new settlement constructions. There are disagreements however on what exactly has been promised and why the US would make such a move.

According to an article published in Al-Jazeera, the US offer includes “a US commitment to block any Palestinian-led effort to win unilateral UN recognition of a Palestinian state; US obstruction of efforts either to revive the Goldstone Report at the UN, or to seek formal UN condemnation of Israel for the deadly Mavi Marmara incident; an ongoing US commitment to defeat any UN resolutions aimed at raising Israel's unacknowledged nuclear weapons programme before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); vigorous US diplomatic efforts to counter all attempts to "delegitimise" Israel in various world fora; and, most importantly, increasing efforts to further ratchet international sanctions on both Iran and Syria concerning their respective nuclear and proliferation efforts.”

Others, especially among Israeli analysts and politicians, have expressed skepticism that the US offer and intentions are genuine. In an article written for the Yedioth Ahronoth, Yoram Ettinger suggests that “White House promises, guarantees and commitments by US presidents are evasive and illusive and… precedents of US commitments raise doubts.” In addition, the Israeli should hold out since “an American president is not omnipotent, and Congress has the capabilities to enhance US-Israel cooperation” and tilt the balance even further in the favor of the latter.

Some suspect that the US officials might be hiding something from their Israeli counterparts. Commenting for the Jewish Week, one Israeli lobbyist suggested that “this seems so ridiculous on the surface that there almost has to be something else behind it. I don’t think anybody in the administration is naive enough to believe that getting everybody back to the table is going to produce real progress unless they have some game changer waiting in the wings. It may be that implicit in this offer is the threat to stop doing the things they’ve promised — like taking more aggressive action against Palestinian efforts at the UN — if Israel doesn’t go along with their plans.”

Yet others believe that should the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu agree to the deal, he would be doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons, and in the process sell out any leverage that Israel had in exchange for financial incentives. Yossi Sarid wonders whether in fact it would not “have been better for Netanyahu to have agreed to the freeze and ask nothing in return? He could have then returned from America and announced: I have agreed to the freeze because that is what we need now and is also the way to show gratitude to a country that has withheld nothing from us. If he had done so, even his friends and rivals would have respected him. But if he had done so, he wouldn't be Netanyahu.” In yet another op-ed, Asaf Gefen is even more critical of the Prime Minister writing that “this past week we realized that if we fail to achieve peace through our brains, it shall arrive through the wallet.”

No wonder then, that despite the seemingly extremely favorable incentives presented to him last week, it is still unclear whether the Israeli cabinet will agree to the US offer. According to an AFP report published by the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, “a head count conducted by all the mainstream Israeli papers seemed to agree that Netanyahu can count on the support of three ministers from his Likud party, as well as two Labor Party members, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and an independent. Leading the opposition is Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with two others from his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, and three Likud hardliners. Two ministers from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party have agreed to abstain during the vote.”

None of these discussions of course take into account how the third party in the negotiations, the Palestinian government, feels about the reported US offer. In a statement released to Asharq Alawsat, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas made it clear that he “reject[s] linking the [military] fighter jet deal to a settlement freeze in any form, this [deal] has nothing to do with us, and we have nothing to do with this issue…this is our position and it will not change.” According to the report, he then added that “the US is an Israeli ally and we cannot prevent it [from making such deals] however let such assistance be away from the path of Palestinian negotiations and not used as a pretext to provide Israel with more arms.”

An editorial in the Saudi daily Arab News, expressed the concern that “The problem the sweeteners cannot overcome is that the current negotiations are no longer between Israel and the Palestinians, but between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. And the main point of negotiations is not to get talks restarted, but to discuss the endgame solution. Once the Americans and Israelis agree on a solution it will be promoted as the only realistic one. The Arabs and the international community will be asked to endorse it; then the Palestinians will be forced to sign it.”

And what would happen should the negotiations fail? Some Israelis have already come to the realization that the settlements have become too much of the burden for the long term viability of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Ari Shavit writes that “now we can see the price. Now we see the abyss we have been led to. We see the delegitimization, the demography, the spoilage. We see that more is less. We see that having it all isn't what it was cut out to be; that if we don't draw a border for the Jewish state, there will be no Jewish state. We see that the occupation is about to turn Israel into South Africa; that the settlements are about to destroy Zionism. We see the clock striking midnight.”

Others have suggested even the end of the peace process and that “the last realistic prospect for an agreement expired quite some time before now, even if all the players do not quite realise it yet: anger and denial are always the first stages in the grieving process; acceptance of reality only comes later.” The question then becomes what then? “The Camp David failure led to the outbreak of Palestinian violence, the second intifada, and the demise of the Israeli peace camp. Mr Netanyahu may be prepared to risk a repeat of both such outcomes from these talks if it means he can avoid making any real concessions on Palestinian statehood.”

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