Despite the hot weather for this time of the year, it looks like there will be a freeze.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will apparently be able to muster a majority of his diplomatic-security cabinet to approve an additional 90-day freeze on West Bank settlement construction in exchange for an incentive package from the United States.
But Netanyahu’s majority will be a razor-thin one, made possible only by Shas ministers’ agreement to either abstain or absent themselves from the vote.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai said yesterday that his party would take this step “if it is made clear in a letter from the president of the United States that construction will take place in Jerusalem immediately, and that after 90 days, it will be possible to build everywhere, without restrictions.”
Shas’ abstention would presumably give Netanyahu a 7-6 majority for the freeze, since votes in favor are expected from himself, three other members of his Likud party (Yuval Steinitz, Gideon Sa’ar and Dan Meridor ), both Labor ministers (Ehud Barak and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer ) and Yaakov Neeman, an independent affiliated with Yisrael Beiteinu. The six opponents are expected to be the three Yisrael Beiteinu ministers (Avigdor Lieberman, Uzi Landau and Yitzhak Aharonovitch ) and the three remaining Likud ministers (Moshe Ya’alon, Silvan Shalom and Benny Begin ).
Netanyahu briefed his forum of seven top ministers on the American proposal Saturday night and the rest of the cabinet yesterday morning. But he said the package is not yet final; certain details remain to be worked out.
“When the work is finished, I’ll bring the matter to the diplomatic-security cabinet for a discussion and vote,” he promised.
But it seems unlikely that such a vote will be held this week. Defense Minister Ehud Barak left for Europe yesterday and will return only on Thursday, while U.S. President Barack Obama returned to Washington from his trip to Asia only yesterday, and must still approve the verbal understandings that Netanyahu reached with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week. Then, if Obama does approve the deal, he must ensure that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agrees to resume talks with Israel on the basis of a three-month freeze. Only after that will the understandings be finalized into a presidential letter and sent to Israel for the diplomatic-security cabinet to approve.
Nevertheless, Obama indicated yesterday that he does expect the deal to go through.
“I think it is promising,” he told reporters upon arriving in the U.S. yesterday, referring to the news from Israel.
“I commend Netanyahu,” he added, according to Reuters. “It signals he is serious.”
At a meeting of ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party yesterday, four ministers vocally opposed the deal, with the most vehement being Ya’alon, one of two vice prime ministers.
“Extending the freeze is a honey trap,” he warned. “It will send us down the slippery slope, and the freeze will lead us to another crisis with the American administration at the end of the three months, and maybe even sooner.”
Shalom, the other vice prime minister, also assailed the proposal, saying the biggest problem was not the three-month freeze, but the concomitant U.S. pressure to begin immediate negotiations with the PA on borders during this time.
“It’s a strategic mistake to condition an American veto [in the UN Security Council] and diplomatic assistance from Washington on a continuation of the settlement freeze,” he added, referring to two elements of the promised American incentive package. “These are things that ought to be self-evident based on the two countries’ alliance.”
Netanyahu, explaining why he thought Israel should accept the American offer, told the ministers, “an international situation has developed that must be taken into account. There’s an American proposal here that mandates serious discussion. In any case, we will talk about all the issues [with the PA], not just about borders.”
The prime minister’s aides said later that he has no intention of complying with the U.S. demand to discuss borders first, noting that he told Clinton last week “all the issues must be on the table.”
But he also told Clinton that Jerusalem should be the last item on the agenda, due to its sensitivity.
Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor, a Likud member of the inner forum of seven top ministers, told Haaretz in an interview published today that if the three-month freeze does lead to renewed talks with the PA, Israel should seek to obtain a final border that roughly follows the route of the separation fence and leaves the large settlement blocs as part of Israel (see page 7 ).
If Israel does not withdraw from most of the West Bank, he said, the result will be “a binational state that will endanger the Zionist enterprise.”
Despite the opposition both within Likud and from some of its coalition partners, it seems the coalition would survive a decision to extend the freeze.
Yisrael Beiteinu, though opposed to the extension, has already made it clear that it will not quit the coalition over this issue, and the same goes for Shas. The only party that has threatened to quit is Habayit Hayehudi, which comprises three MKs. It is not yet clear whether they will follow through on their threat.
But coalition members were not the only ones who objected to the proposed deal: MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al ) deemed the American offer “dangerous, as it enables the Israeli government to continue building in East Jerusalem while giving a green light for construction throughout the territories at the end of the three months. The United States is a partner in the greatest waste of time in history.”
In contrast, MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima ) urged the government to agree to the freeze, even though he himself is a settler. “Ideological and political obstinacy will lead to a binational state,” he warned. “We as settlers must put Israel’s national interests above all and accept the American proposal.”
Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)
4:18PM: Surprisingly tame CNN video on the Israeli football league, including the Judean Rebels team that contains “settler” and palestinian players.
1:30PM: According to Ynet’s coverage of Leobardo’s visit to Israel, DiCaprio’s mother is a man.
1:20PM: Israel to Norway: You suck.
Serious diplomatic conflict: Israel is accusing the Norwegian government of funding and encouraging blatant anti-Israel incitement.
According to reports received by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the Trondheim Municipality is funding a trip to New York for students taking part in the “Gaza Monologues” play, which “deals with the suffering of children in Gaza as a result of the Israeli occupation.”
The play, written by a Palestinian from Gaza, will be presented at the United Nations headquarters. It joins an exhibition by a Norwegian artists displayed in Damascus, Beirut, and Amman, with the help of Norway’s embassies in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
The exhibition shows killed Palestinian babies next to Israel Defense Forces helmets, which are reminiscent of Nazi soldiers’ helmets, and an Israeli flag drenched in blood.
The Norwegians are also helping the distribution of a documentary film called “Tears of Gaza” to festivals across the world. According to the Foreign Ministry, the film deals with the suffering of Gaza’s children as well, without mentioning Hamas, the rockets fired at Israel, and Israel’s right to defend itself.
The film shows Gazans chanting, “Itbah al-Yahud,” but the Norwegian translation says “slaughter the Israelis” instead of “slaughter the Jews”.
In addition, a book written by two Norwegian doctors who were the only foreigners in Gaza to give interviews during Operation Cast Lead was published recently. The book, which accuses IDF soldiers of deliberately killing women and children, is a bestseller in Norway and has been warmly recommended by none other than Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.
The Israeli Embassy in Norway strongly protested the authorities’ involvement in Israel’s demonization. “The open and official Norwegian policy talks about understanding and reconciliation,” a senior Israeli official said Sunday evening, “but ever since the war in Gaza, Norway has become a superpower in terms of exporting multimedia aimed at de-legitimizing Israel, while using the Norwegian taxpayer funds for creating and transporting this multimedia.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said in a meeting with Norwegian parliament members that “such activity pushes away the chance for reconciliation and encourages a radicalization in the Palestinian stand which prevents them from compromising.”
The Norwegians responded to the Israeli criticism by saying that the government supports the freedom of expressions and will not intervene in artistic content
“The Gaza Monologues”? Israel haters are constantly comparing Gaza to a concentration camp, but this is the first time I’ve heard it compared to a vagina.
10:35AM: Gillermania! My favorite Israeli spokesperson Dan Gillerman does not hold back from criticizing US President Barak Obama.
9:15AM: I wonder how Hizbullah are going to spin this.
How about Israel kidnaps old Lebanese woman before being forced to return her?
An IDF force patrolling along the northern border Saturday detected an 80-year-old woman whose clothes had tangled in the Lebanese side of the border fence. The troops informed United Nations personnel stationed at the area and rescued the woman together.
The elderly woman was caught in a part of the fence which was adjacent to a mine field and when it became clear the Lebanese Army could not assist her, the IDF stepped in.
A joint military force pulled the woman into Israeli territory while the Lebanese Army observed the rescue operation. After making sure the woman was not injured UNIFIL representatives contacted the Lebanese Army and coordinated her return to Lebanon via the Rosh Hanikra crossing.
I’m just surprised the Lebanese Army did not shoot at us. It’s what they do.
6:18AM: Please bear with me. The computer gremlins are harder than expected to overcome, and it may come down to buying a new computer.
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