Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nearly half of Israel supports Quartet call for Israeli settlement freeze.

This just goes to show what can happen when the United States stop seeing the world through a Likud lens and start to be the "honest brokers" that they have always claimed to be in the Middle East. Suddenly, Netanyahu has several storms flying around his head all at once.

The Middle East quartet issued a call from Moscow today for an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem, and backed a peace treaty by March 2012. The joint statement from the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the US, ratchets up diplomatic pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he tries to defuse what some have said is the worst dispute with Washington in decades. The statement said the group would "monitor closely'' Israeli construction in Jerusalem and condemned the 1,600 unit building project that upended Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel and sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two allies.
It's such a relief after the Bush years to hear the Quartet speak with a unified voice and a sense of purpose. And we get to see just how serious the Israelis are about peace when they immediately denounce the Quartet's statement.
The call got a cold reception from the Israeli government. Within hours on Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a blunt reply, accusing the Quartet of "ignoring'' Israeli efforts for peace over 16 years of negotiations, and of forcing an artificial timetable for the peace process, the Haaretz newspaper reported.
This is what gets so many people suspicious about Israel's intentions regarding peace. Talk of "false timetables", especially when Israel are making it perfectly clear that they would like to continue settlement building, only reinforces the suspicion that Israel will either talk about this forever whilst continuing to steal Palestinian land, or actually prefer simply never to talk with the Palestinians at all, which was their preferred route when Yasser Arafat was alive and George Bush was in the White House.

For years Israeli leaders have stated that they would love "a partner in peace", but that sadly no such partner existed. Now that they have Abbas leading the Palestinian negotiating team, I notice no great change in Israel's keenness to get talks started. And, as Abbas is so clearly moderate, the Israelis have had to come up with ever more subtle ways to avoid talking. Indeed, many of us suspect that the announcement made during Biden's visit was made precisely to force Abbas to walk away from even the proximity talks; which was also Obama's belief, hence the fact that he went ballistic.

Nor does it appear that the Israelis public are as keen on settlement building as Netanyahu has been making out.

However, two new opinion polls published in Israeli newspapers on Friday suggested that not all Israelis are rallying around the government despite assertions by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of broad Israeli support for building in East Jerusalem – an area Israel annexed after capturing it in the 1967 war, but which is considered illegally occupied by the United Nation's and most of the worlds states. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as a capital of a future state.

A poll by the daily Yediot Ahronot said that 46 percent of respondents support a construction freeze in East Jerusalem, while the figure from a poll commissioned by Haaretz found support for a freeze at 41 percent.

The Yediot poll found a statistical tie when it asked Israelis about whether Netanyahu or President Barack Obama is to blame for the current crisis. But when Haaretz asked about the US president's treatment of Israel, a surprising 69 percent cast it in a positive light. Just over half said it was business-like, 21 percent said hostile, and 18 percent friendly.

Nor do most Israelis appear to regard East Jerusalem as part of Israel according to Dahlia Sheindlin, an Israeli-American public opinion expert, who argues that Israelis regard Jerusalem as "a divided city".
"This is the reality,'' says Ms. Sheindlin. "Israelis are aware of it because they don't go to East Jerusalem, and when they go there they feel like it’s a foreign country. If you catch someone in a rational frame of mind, they don't want to give away East Jerusalem, but they know that it's going to be under what they call 'Arab authority.' "
As I've always expected, ordinary Israelis appear to be much more pragmatic than the views being expressed by Netanyahu's Likud party.

Click here for full article.

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