Sunday, November 14, 2010

Negotiating with the Wrong Partner

The American proposal for an additional 90-day building moratorium by Israelis (but not Arabs) in the disputed territories makes one wonder who the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict are.

One would expect that if Israel was going to be making concessions, it would be making the concessions to the Palestinian Arabs, who would, of course, have to be making their own concessions in return.

That's not the situation here. Israel is making concessions to the United States and the United States is giving consideration to Israel. This consideration appears to involve three areas:

1. Agreeing to oppose, for a period of one year, anti-Israel actions in the United Nations that America should be opposing anyway.

2. Sending Israel additional military equipment to maintain the supposed military edge America has kept pledging to ensure anyway.

3. A pledge to not seek any additional settlement freezes.

The proposed extension is presumably just that, an extension under the same terms as the original freeze, and would end three months after the expiration of the original moratorium. Presumably, ongoing construction could continue, but new construction would not commence.

As an American, I don't usually presume to give the Israeli government advice, but I feel compelled to make an exception in this case.

Israel should extend the freeze under its original conditions, with the understanding that it's effectively really just for another month and a half and all building that's already in progress continues, but should reject all the American quid pro quas other than the commitment to stop demanding settlement freezes.

Negotiations between the United States and Israel sets a dangerous precedent. It eliminates any pretense of the United States as being an honest broker, having it acting on behalf of the same Palestinian Authority that has repeatedly rejected peace and continued the conflict. This is bad for Israel and it's bad for America.

Another month and a half of not initiating new projects in the disputed territories, but it's worth it if it means ending America pressure on settlements.

Ultimately, the key is the Arabs making the strategic decision to pursue a better life for their own people rather than pursuing the destruction of Israel. The Obama Administration's ludicrous obsession about settlements has distracted everyone for two years.

So my advice to the Israeli government: if you can be assured that this isn't just one more promise that will ultimately be reneged, agree to not initiate new projects for another six weeks, but also make it clear that you expect the Arabs, not the American government, to make reciprocal concessions.

And this time, don't back down on that.

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