Friday, October 8, 2010

Netanyahu demands that Obama commit to Bush's promises on settlement Blocs and refugees

PM Netanyahu, has requested that U.S. President Barack Obama commit to the assurances that were given by his predecessor, George Bush.

Israeli political sources have revealed a number of additional safeguards that Tel Aviv is demanding from the U.S. administration in return for its announcement of a "partial freeze" on the construction of Jewish settlements in the Occupied West Bank.

The sources indicated that the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has requested that U.S. President Barack Obama commit to the assurances that were given by his predecessor, George Bush, in a letter sent out in April 2004 to then Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. It included assurances of Washington's support for the principle of annexing major settlement blocs to Israel under any agreement for the demarcation of the Palestinian state's boarders as well as the rejection of the return of Palestinian refugees to the territories occupied since 1948.

The sources referred to a "positive initial American reaction" to the Tel Aviv demands as Netanyahu's requests "are usually listened to by the senior officials in the US administration."

As Ari Shavit writes in Haaretz:

"Here's a creative idea. In exchange for freezing construction in the West Bank for 60 days, the U.S. will renew the commitment President Bush made in his April 2004 letter. Bush's letter was given to Ariel Sharon in exchange for the disengagement. It consists of a vague commitment that when peace is made, the settlement blocs will remain in Israel's hands and the Palestinian refugees will not return to Israel.

Now we have a golden opportunity to make a breakthrough American-Israeli deal: Israel agrees to the Obama administration's request for the freeze while the Obama administration adopts President Bush's letter word-for-word.

For Netanyahu, this is a win-win formula. If Obama agrees, Israel will gain a significant achievement that would improve its situation in the international arena and in the negotiations on the final-status arrangement. If Obama refuses, his confrontation with Israel will not be about a thousand ridiculous apartments in the territories but about U.S. credibility. Instead of Netanyahu being the dissenter, Obama will be the dissenter. When it emerges that an incumbent American president is denying a commitment given by a previous American president and adopted by a large majority of the two houses of Congress, Israel will pass from a state of moral inferiority to one of moral superiority.

This is not merely a tactical matter. To make peace with the Palestinians Israel will have to take on itself almost survival-threatening risks. For Israel to take such risks it will need solid American guarantees. If the U.S. tears to shreds its previous guarantees, there is no value to future guarantees it might provide. So the matter of American credibility is fundamental.

It is time both Washington and Jerusalem stop being right, start being clever and treat the credibility and freezing issues simultaneously. Obama cannot stand Bush. Netanyahu had little admiration for Sharon. But the only formula that will save Obama and Netanyahu is the Bush-Sharon formula".