Laura Rozen at Politico reports that President Obama has written a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu offering various “assurances” to Israel if it will extend for two months its moratorium on construction in the West Bank. Her report comes via Middle East specialist David Makovsky, who co-authored a book about the Middle East with Dennis Ross, a top presidential adviser on the Middle East and a veteran “peace” negotiator. Presumably, then, it comes from the White House.
Obama’s alleged offer appears to be an act of desperation, and a ridiculous one at that. What does Obama believe will be accomplished in two months? If the parties were within striking distance of a deal, Israel presumably would have extended the moratorium itself or, alternatively, the PA would be willing to continue talking notwithstanding the end of the moratorium. Instead, both parties are acting with indifference to the impending breakdown of the talks. That’s good evidence, if any were needed, that the talks are going nowhere. Only the U.S. has any strong desire for them to continue.
From an Israeli perspective, moreover, it’s not clear how much the U.S. assurances are worth. Reportedly, the assurances are (1) that Washington will not ask for a moratorium extension beyond 60 days, (2) that the United States will veto any U.N. Security Council initiative — Arab or otherwise — relating to Arab-Israeli peace during the agreed one-year negotiating period, and (3) that Washington will accept the legitimacy of existing Israeli security needs and not seek to redefine them.
The first assurance doesn’t offer Israel anything affirmative; it is a limitation on the underlying U.S. demand, not a reason to accept the demand. The second assurance matters only to those who think the U.N. matters. Moreover, to extend the moratorium in order to avoid the implied threat of anti-Israeli screeds by the U.N. is, in effect, to give the U.N. control over Israeli housing policy. Even if the U.N. matters, it does not matter that much.
The third assurance – that Washington will accept the legitimacy of existing Israeli security needs and not seek to redefine them – is offensive, and should make Israelis think twice about proceeding with any Obama administration peace efforts. The implication of this assurance is that, presently, Obama does not necessarily accept the legitimacy of existing Israeli security needs and may well redefine them. But Obama has no right to judge, much less redefine, Israel’s security needs. Since it has become obvious that Obama claims that right – at least in the absence of Israeli concessions – Israel should no longer accept his legitimacy as an intermediary.
Netanyahu reportedly is expected to reject the U.S. offer, and may already have done so. The Obama administration should not be surprised by that response. Nor, given the meaninglessness of a two-month extension, should it be particularly unhappy.
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