Friday, March 19, 2010

Israeli PM caves in to US demands.

Benjamin Netanyahu has climbed down in the face of US pressure and he has reassured Hillary Clinton that Israel will take confidence building steps to ensure that the Palestinians return to the negotiating table.

These measure likely include the release of Palestinian prisoners, the removal of West Bank checkpoints and perhaps even a willingness to transfer West Bank territories to PA control.

While the PMO did not mention Israel's response to a U.S. demand to halt the contentions East Jerusalem construction project announced during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's Israel visit, a possible answer to that question may be found in a Washington Post report released earlier Thursday.

According to a blog entry by senior Post reporter Jackson Diehl, one informed by a conversation with Israel's envoy to the U.S. Michael Oren, Jerusalem had reportedly agreed to postpone the execution of the contentious Ramat Shlomo construction plan, while not canceling it altogether.

Netanyahu is expected, according to the Washington Post report, to tell the Obama administration that he cannot revoke the Ramat Shlomo expansion plan both for legal reasons and as a result of wide public support in continued building in Jerusalem.

However, according to Diehl's blog entry, Netanyahu will offer "assurances that the new neighborhood will not be constructed anytime soon; it is, in fact, two or three years from groundbreaking."
The Guardian are reporting that, whilst Netanyahu cannot publicly state that the building in East Jerusalem is shelved, to all intents and purposes it is on the back burner for several years.
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, told the Washington Post: "The goal of both sides at this point is to put this behind us, and go forward with the proximity talks as quickly as possible."
I said the other day that I sensed Obama knew that this was his moment, this was the time where he had to apply maximum pressure to get the Israelis to act.

He has played this game of poker with Netanyhu; and Netanyahu has just folded his hand.

Diplomats said that some of the concessions by Netanyahu were being made public and others were being kept private, partly as a face-saving exercise for the Israeli prime minister.

The climbdown is politically awkward for Netanyahu, coming only days after he publicly said that no Israeli government in the past 42 years had given a promise not to build in East Jerusalem, and he will face criticism, particularly from his rightwing coalition partners.

Hopefully, Obama will realise that, despite this initial victory, he will have to be willing to hold Netanyahu's feet to the fire many more times if he is to bring about genuine peace between the two sides.

It is highly unlikely that the coalition which Netanyahu has formed as his government has any interest in a two state solution, indeed, many of them appear utterly opposed to such a notion.

But Obama can only deal with the cards which he has been dealt. He should now push on, knowing that Israel - and Netanyahu - respond to strong US displeasure.

There is every possibility that Obama could pull this off, even if he has to destroy the government of Netanyahu in the process. But the choice will be Netanyahu's. He is on the wrong side of history, Obama will now have to ask him whether or not he wants to change sides.

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