My last blog, posted on Tuesday, posed the question of what Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strategy is regarding peace talks with the Palestinians. That question remains, even more so today, but I stand corrected on one conclusion I drew.
I noted that Mideast experts are baffled by the Israeli leader’s seeming willingness to press ahead in negotiations, including the possibility of ceding West Bank land, while at the same time holding fast on the right to build in the settlements, and quickening the pace of construction.
That puzzlement only deepened after Ethan Bronner’s front page report in the New York Times Dec. 23 pointed out that much of the building in the settlements taking place now is in areas considered most likely to be ceded to the Palestinians in a peace deal. So what gives? It would be helpful if we understood Jerusalem’s strategy.
(Bronner’s lead, by the way, said that Israel’s resumption of construction in the West Bank caused the Palestinians to withdraw from the peace talks. But it didn’t take that move to give the Palestinian Authority cold feet.)
I wrote on Tuesday that “Jerusalem’s refusal to accept a U.S. deal, including military and diplomatic perks, in return for a 90-day extension of the freeze on building in the settlements has soured the administration on Netanyahu lately.”
But the next day a senior Israeli official contacted me to say that “contrary to widespread conventional wisdom Jerusalem did not refuse Washington’s offer.” The official said Netanyahu was “willing and ready to bring it to a vote” when “the U.S. informed us, much to our surprise, that they did not want to move forward on that path.”
Sources in Washington confirm that scenario, noting that the administration, after much bargaining, concluded that extending the freeze on building in the settlements for another 90 days was not likely to produce any diplomatic results. Some add that the U.S. was upset that details of the offer were leaked in Jerusalem, and not all accurately. Netanyahu is not a favorite these days in D.C.