Sunday, August 22, 2010

Direct Talks are a huge achievement for Israel and a public advanage for Netanyahu

An official Likud statement released by the head of the party’s reaction team, MK Ophir Akunis, called the American announcement on talks without preconditions a huge achievement for Israel.

“It took a year and a half to persuade the international community and the Palestinians that direct dialogue is the only way to try to reach a solution to the conflict,” Akunis said. “This is further proof that when you stand up for your principles and do not give in, you can attain diplomatic achievements.”

Speaking behind closed doors, Netanyahu said the success of the talks will hinge on understandings between the leaders. "I will want to reach agreed principles with the Palestinian leadership and there will be no need for many teams [of negotiators] and hundreds of meetings .... If I get the security that will ensure that no missiles will fall on Tel Aviv, it will be possible to move quickly toward a comprehensive arrangement," he was quoted as saying.

Government Services Minister Michael Eitan also welcomed the start of talks. In a letter he sent to 1,300 Likud activists over the weekend, he came out in favor of continuing the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, except in the settlement blocs and the Jewish community of Hebron.

Eitan said Israel should already begin evacuating settlers from areas destined to be given to the Palestinians and that IDF soldiers should temporarily live in the homes. He said that in the talks with the Palestinians, Netanyahu should seek an arrangement that would allow some West Bank Jews to remain in their homes in a Palestinian state.

Aluf Benn writes in Haaretz: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is embarking on direct negotiations for a final status agreement with the Palestinians from a better position than his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, who were in touching distance of an agreement but encountered Palestinian rejection.

Netanyahu is popular among the public and enjoys unrivaled political strength, unlike Barak, whose coalition broke apart prior to his departure for the Camp David summit. Olmert lost his public backing as a result of the Second Lebanon War.

Any agreement Netanyahu would arrive at would be met with overwhelming public support. Beyond that, the prime minister has another advantage: Expectations for the renewed negotiations are negligible. The small number of people actually interested in the peace process think Netanyahu is bluffing.

Such public apathy is convenient for a politician who wants to turn his back on prior positions without incurring any condemnation, criticism or coalition turmoil. It's what Netanyahu needs to prepare the general Israeli public, the forum of seven inner cabinet ministers and the international community for a change in his approach to managing the conflict.