Netanyahu Buckles On Settlements?
Bibi Netanyahu rebuffing the Obama Administration on a settlement freeze has sure won him plaudits at home, according to members of his cabinet and center-right parties. Except, um, he hasn't rebuffed the President at all.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has exploited such sentiment to depict Washington's opposition to settlement growth as unreasonable. But Israeli officials say he is also seeking a compromise that would limit the growth and facilitate Obama's goal of restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Several officials said Tuesday that Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Housing Minister Ariel Atias had quietly agreed to suspend all government tenders to build new Jewish housing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at least until the start of next year.
The government and its critics acknowledge that there has been no green light for construction bids since November and that Netanyahu, after taking office on March 31, allowed the de facto suspension to continue.
One official said the recent decision, which was not announced, makes the suspension explicit in advance of a new round of talks set for next week between Netanyahu and U.S. envoy George J. Mitchell.
Netanyahu's trying to thread a delicate needle. Obviously he needs US support for Israel's economic survival. At the same time, his right-wing base wants him to hold firm on settlements, particularly the settlers. This is the big obstacle to Middle East peace - the thorough intransigence among all sides of the debate. But the US does have power in the region, as evidenced by getting a right-wing Prime Minister of Israel to essentially agree to demands that could eventually hurt him politically.