When Do We Stop Pretending Netanyahu Is A Partner For Peace?

Was2345642Americans for Peace Now’s Lara Friedman analyzes Bibi Netanyahu’s latest thumb in the Obama administration’s (and the Abbas government’s, and the international community’s) eye, the authorization of 900 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. “This is a crisis engineered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Friedman writes, one “intended to create a head-on collision with the Obama Administration over Jerusalem.”

[W]hile Bibi had a number of “conventional” options for dealing with the issue, he chose to go nuclear by making this issue — and his defiance of US concerns — a top story. In doing so, he has undermined the prospects for the very negotiations he claims he wants. […]

The plan, if implemented, will allow the construction of 844 units, and these units won’t be inside the existing footprint of the settlement. Rather, they will be on the settlement’s southwestern flank, expanding Gilo in the direction of the Palestinian village of Wallajeh (a village in which a large number of the homes are fighting Israeli demolition orders). This new Gilo plan clearly dovetails with another plan to build a new settlement, called Givat Yael, which would straddle the Jerusalem border and significantly extend Israeli Jerusalem to the south, further sealing the city off from the Bethlehem area and the West Bank (and connecting it to the Etzion settlement bloc). That plan, it was reported yesterday, also appears to be suddenly gaining steam. (for a map showing both the Gilo plan and Givat Yael, click here.)

The Gilo plan is thus extremely provocative on several levels. It represents a clear and public statement from the Netanyahu government that it is neither “freezing” nor acting with “restraint” in East Jerusalem. It compels the Palestinians to respond, just as it compels other regional actors to respond. Finally, it has important strategic implications, since the plan, implemented, would impact on border options for Jerusalem under a future peace agreement.

Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth reported — and a U.S. official confirmed — that Obama administration envoy George Mitchell had asked an aide to Netanyahu at a meeting in London on Monday to block the proposed construction in East Jerusalem. This latest affront comes less than a week after President Obama met with Netanyahu for 70 minutes in the White House.

Writing in yesterday’s New York Times, Roger Cohen suggested that recent history “makes clear that the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t deviate from the pattern of settlement growth established since 1967.” The U.S. has its own history of recognizing the illegitimacy of the settlements, and recognizing the role that they play in powering Palestinian resentment and violence, while never undertaking serious measures to pressure Israel to curb them. The Obama administration showed admirable clarity at the outset about these things, but then refused to stand strong behind its demand that Israel abide by its previous commitments to halt settlement growth, and its credibility has suffered for it.

The administration has certainly made its own mistakes on this issue, and I think the Palestinians have been unwise in refusing to negotiate without a complete settlement freeze. But we need to recognize that Netanyahu’s intransigence, born of an ideological commitment to seizing as much Palestinian land as possible, is a huge part of the problem here. Add this to his tendency to provoke crises and humiliate his country’s key patron, the United States, at almost every opportunity, I wonder when the Obama administration will simply stop pretending that Netanyahu is a partner for peace.