THE AMERICAN 'SETTLEMENTS' CLIMB-DOWN: OR HAS NETANYAHU TRIUMPHED ALREADY?
"WASHINGTON - Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations could possibly resume without a complete freeze in Israeli building of Jewish settlements, a senior U.S. official suggested on Thursday.
The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said it was more important that the scope of a settlement freeze was acceptable to the Israelis and the Palestinians than to the United States.
The Obama administration hopes next month to announce a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been stalled since December, but the pieces have not yet fallen into place, diplomats and U.S. officials said.
U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is trying get Israel to freeze its construction of Jewish settlements, a Palestinian condition for resuming talks. He has also asked Arab states to offer some gestures toward normalization of ties with Israel.
Even if Israel and the Palestinians agree to resume talks, analysts believe chances of a peace agreement any time soon are slim because of divisions among the Palestinians and a fragile, right-wing coalition in Israel.
The Obama administration has taken the public stance that Israel must halt all settlement activity, including so-called "natural growth" under which new homes are built within existing enclaves to accommodate growing settler families.
While saying this was still Washington's position, the U.S. official suggested the United States would not stand in the way if the two sides could agree on something short of that.
"Are we going to argue, if at some point the parties say, 'you know, this is not everything that we hope for but it's enough?" asked the U.S. official. "That would then have us presenting an obstacle to the start of a negotiation."
Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an unusually upbeat statement after meeting in London on Wednesday, saying that their talks were "very productive" and that they had made "good progress."
However, Netanyahu on Thursday denied that they agreed on a temporary halt to settlement building. An Israeli team is due in the United States next week for more talks and Mitchell will return to the region in September".
Arshad Mohammed, "U. S. hints at flexibility on Israeli settlement halt," 27August 2009, in http://www.reuters.com
"Mr Obama is probing the Israeli government’s motives. The US demand that Israel halt the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has become a litmus test of Mr Netanyahu’s intent.
Thus far the US administration has played hardball – insisting on a complete halt to settlement expansion. This is the minimum requirement of Palestinians and Arab governments for reciprocal confidence-building measures. Mr Netanyahu’s response has been to wriggle: in countless sessions with George Mitchell, Mr Obama’s Middle East envoy, the Israelis have sought exceptions and exemptions.
When Mr Netanyahu met Mr Mitchell again in London this week, Israeli diplomats were hinting that the argument was going their way. East Jerusalem would be exempted from the freeze, as would some projects in the West Bank. Whether this gloss represents a real dilution of US demands or an effort to save face we shall see soon enough.
There is much at stake here for Mr Obama. He cannot afford to blink in the face of Mr Netanyahu’s intransigence. The president has placed a revival of the peace process at the heart of a strategic effort to rebuild US influence in the region and across the Muslim world. He has promised a comprehensive approach to Israeli-Arab reconciliation. Above all, he has pledged fairness.
Holding Mr Netanyahu to a settlement freeze has thus become a critical measure of US resolve and presidential prestige as well as of Israeli intent. The war in Iraq cost the US its leadership role in the Middle East. Even-handed peace-making is the only route by which Mr Obama can restore it.
Philip Stephens, "Running to Standstill? The Peace Test for Netanyahu," 28 August 2009, in www.ft.com
From a reading of Reuters article above, it appears that within a few months of the new American administration's stating its position that any expansion of Israeli settlements was a complete non possumus, they have already commenced wavering. This is of course more or less what Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu aimed at all along. Being a master of the diplomatic tactics of stalling and postponement, as evidenced by his last tenure as Prime Minister during the Clinton Administration, it is not surprising that he has already gotten the Americans to climb-down. The only thing surprising is that it has occurred so soon. And, apparently, with little to show for it. At least at this time. My own surmise is that the Americans, frustrated by Tel Aviv's, stalling technique, as well as the Arab governments adamant refusal to offer up any 'confidence building' measures of their own, decided that even an inconclusive mini-summit at the UN meeting in New York in September was better than a complete stalemate. The only issue is of course is that how does the peace process proceed, after the meeting? And, why would such a meeting, per se, produce results any more substantive than those 'achieved', by say the Annapolis Summit of late 2007? To conclude, only can only say that inasmuch as Netanyahu hopes to achieve a repeat of his diplomacy of negation of the Clinton years, he has started off on the right foot. Which makes all the more pathetic the panglossian observations of Mr. Stephens in the Financial Times. Whose comments on the current American Administration have all the hallmarks of his more sycophantic ones when he was the court-journalist for the Blair Government in the earlier part of this decade. Apparently, some people never learn.