It was hard to believe the prime minister Tuesday evening when he declared that the settlement freeze is a temporary one-time move, to be followed by resumed construction; a statement he made in a bid to mitigate the anger of the settlers.
However, it appears that nothing is more permanent than the temporary: This assumption may turn out to be accurate in respect to the cabinet’s decision to freeze settlement construction for 10 months.
Netanyahu explained the painful decision, as he characterized it, in the need to take into account broad national considerations, hinting that Israel requires America’s assistance in an effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
But let’s assume that in 10 months the international community is still unable to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities. Israel’s need for US assistance in thwarting the “existential danger” vis-à-vis Iran, as Netanyahu refers to it, will be even greater. Is it even thinkable that the Obama Administration will then allow Israel to resume construction in the territories? Does anyone think that Netanyahu will dare resist the American demand to continue the freeze?
There is no reason to envy the prime minister. Despite the decision to halt settlement construction, Mahmoud Abbas is not returning to the negotiating table for the time being.
Will Netanyahu clash with US?The Palestinian Authority enjoys international backing for the argument that the freeze declared by Netanyahu is incomplete because it does not include east Jerusalem, while construction that is already underway in the various West Bank settlement blocs is allowed to go on. On Tuesday, in the wake of pressure by the settlers, Netanyahu ordered the completion of 25 apartments in the community of Kadar, south of Maale Adumim.
The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is supposed to enter an elections campaign in the coming months where the PLO and Hamas will go head-to-head. Each side will radicalize its positions and pledge its allegiance to Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital and to the principle of the return of 1948 refugees. Meanwhile, the Americans will argue that the only chance to restart negotiations is to continue the settlement freeze. The question that remains is whether Netanyahu will decide to clash with the Americans.
I estimate that he will persist with his attempts to maneuver among the various bad options, his rightist voters will continue to slam him, and the Americans will hint that if he resumes construction they will allow the Europeans to pass Security council resolutions that in essence recognize a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel may find itself isolated, and all the horrific scenarios – which Netanyahu wrote at least four books about – would materialize.