Eli Lake reports in the Washington Times that Israel has secretly agreed to a partial freeze of settlement construction for six to nine months. The freeze is only partial because Israel would build more than 2,500 new housing units that have already been approved and because East Jerusalem would be exempt.
Building 2,500 plus new housing units is not a bad six to nine months work. Clearly, then, President Obama’s campaign to freeze settlement construction has failed.
Obama appeared to acknowledge defeat when he issued the following statement today following his meetings today with Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu:
Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security, but they need to do more to stop incitement and to move forward with negotiations. Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians and have discussed important steps to restrain settlement activity, but they need to translate these discussions into real action on this and other issues. And it remains important for the Arab states to take concrete steps to promote peace. (emphasis added)
As Noah Pollak points out, this is a remarkable “climbdown” for the Obama administration which just a few months ago called for, in Secretary of State Clinton’s words, “a stop to settlements–not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.”
It seems obvious that Obama has badly botched the Israel-Palestinian issue. With Israel apparently ready to “restrain” settlement activity for perhaps nine months, the ball is in the court of Abbas. But Obama has placed Abbas in an untenable position. He must either move the “peace process” forward in the face of continued settlement construction, and thus lose face with his own people to the benefit of Hamas, or else turn his back on talks with Israel, thereby losing credibility with Obama and paving the way for Israel to resume settlement construction as it sees fit.
Cynics, and I am one of them, will note that trying to jumpstart the “peace process” at this time was always a fool’s errand no matter how it was attempted. But that doesn’t mean Obama had to play the fool to this humiliating extent.