First, let’s nail down the fighter planes

The U.S. apparently has finalized the language of a letter to Israel that the Obama administration hopes will seal the deal on an extension of Israel’s settlement freeze. Some members of the Israeli security cabinet reportedly demanded that the U.S. put its promises in writing before they would provide the support Netanyahu needs to have the extension approved. One suspects, though, that Netanyahu will be more comfortable with something in writing, given his justified lack of trust in President Obama.
The language of the letter presumably was worked out in conjunction with Netanyahu in order to maximize the likelihood that it will satisfy those in his cabinet whose support he needs to get the extension approved. Originally, concern centered on language making clear that the extended settlement freeze does not apply to East Jerusalem.
According to the Jerusalem Post, which relies on perennial source David Makovsky, the latest possible sticking point is the fighter jets through which Obama induced Netanyahu into the agreement. For, although the Obama administration is making the offer, it is Congress that must approve such a deal. Congress traditionally supports military aid to Israel but, in the present fiscal environment may be reluctant to appropriate money for aid. Accordingly, Netanyahu is said to be looking for a “fallback understanding” so he can present the security cabinet with an ironclad arrangement for the planes in order to get the ministers’ backing for the freeze.
There’s something strange and maybe even a little pathetic about a U.S. President negotiating with Israel over fighter planes in the hope that it will agree to a three-month extension of the settlement freeze, in the hope that the PA will find the freeze acceptable so that talks can continue, in the hope that, in a period of three months, a seemingly intractable impasse can be broken. The administration hopes that the dispute over the boundaries of a Palestinian state can be resolved, so that the settlement issue will become moot and negotiations can continue on other matters.
But the dispute over boundaries is no small matter, and it is not in Israel’s interest to resolve that dispute in advance of resolving other issues. Why cede land, Israel’s primary bargaining chip, before knowing what the rest of the deal will look like?
No wonder Netanyahu wants as much certainty as possible about the one tangible element in this convoluted process – fighter planes.


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