It has been about a month since President Obama reportedly presented a list of demands to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, but Netanyahu has yet to respond. It would be delightful if Netanyahu did not respond at all, particularly given the shabby treatment associated with Obama’s presentation of the demands. But there’s probably no chance that Netanyahu will blow Obama off to that extent.
So how will he respond? It appears that Netanyahu will reject Obama’s reported demand that Israel stop building housing in East Jerusalem. In an interview on Monday, Netanyahu stated: “To stop all construction – Jewish construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem – is totally, totally a nonstarter.”
Netanyahu may, however, yield to some of Obama’s other demands. One demand was that the Israeli military withdraw to pre-intifada lines in the West Bank. The IDF opposes such a withdrawal. As one senior official explained, “the IDF’s freedom to operate everywhere is extremely important in keeping terrorism down to a minimum.”
One might think that keeping “terrorism down to a minimum” would take precedence over appeasing Obama. However, according to the Jerusalem Post, the army has drawn up plans to execute such a withdrawal. Let’s hope it simply wants to be prepared for anything.
Obama also demanded that Netanyahu extend the 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction which the cabinet approved and which is set to expire in late September. I’ve seen no word on how Netanyahu is likely to respond to this demand, but one can imagine him yielding to it.
Meanwhile, the administration is no longer talking publicly about offering its own “peace plan” for the Middle East. It floated that prospect earlier in the month, but on Monday, Rahm Emanuel said the time was not yet ripe for such a move, and both Obama and Hillary Clinton seem to have distanced themselves from it.
Therein may lie the settlement of the current dispute between Obama and Netanyahu – Israel gives in to a few of Obama’s demands; the U.S. agrees not to offer its own peace plan and instead issues some empty words about the need for Palestinian reciprocity.
Such a resolution would be bad for Israel. It would confirm to Obama that there is always something to be gained from leaning on Israel, and thus encourage him to make more demands before very long. Unless Netanyahu wishes to be bullied for up to six and a half more years, he should disabuse Obama of this notion now.
SCOTT adds: The Wall Street Journal provides a list of “nearly a dozen measures” to which Netanyahu has agreed in order to restart talks. The Journal specifies “[o]ne specific measure that could also aid the peace process,” which is said to be Israel’s stated willingness to end construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo for two years. The Journal reports the views of “U.S. officials” that “some of the new concessions made by Israel were nearly identical to a list Israel has already provided twice to the White House in recent months but has yet to follow through on.” Jennifer Rubin provides a reading of the Journal report here.
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