With the end of the Jewish construction freeze only 12 days away, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Likud party Cabinet ministers this morning (Sunday), “It’s all or nothing [in terms of the freeze], but there are also interim options.” He did not elaborate.
Netanyahu thus appears to be giving in, even if only slightly, to pressure from the United States and elsewhere to extend the freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. The freeze, which some have called “racist” in that it applies only to Jews and not Arabs, was imposed nearly ten months ago in order to entice the Palestinian Authority to agree to direct talks with Israel.
For nine months, Israel froze construction while the PA did not talk with Israel; two weeks ago, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas finally agreed to talk directly with Netanyahu – but has demanded that the freeze be extended indefinitely, or else he would end the negotiations.
After a short period of indecision, the United States has now gone along with the PA’s demand. Just two days ago, U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters that he had told Netanyahu that it “makes sense to extend that [construction] moratorium so long as the talks are moving in a constructive way.”
The majority of Cabinet ministers are against extending the freeze. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently summed up their position when he said, “For ten months we have been waiting for the Palestinians to please come to the negotiations. They come at the last month - that’s their problem.”
Obama Excuses and Explains PA - Inaccurately
However, Obama excused and explained the PA position in this matter by saying, “To Netanyahu's credit and to the Israeli government's credit, the settlement moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly reduced settlement construction in the region. And that's why now the Palestinians say: You know what; even though we weren't that keen on it at first or we thought it was just window dressing, it turns out that this is important to us.”
In fact, however, the PA was quite “keen on it at first,” never “thought it was just window dressing,” and stated this position many times. On Nov. 11 of last year, for instance, Reuters reported that Abbas had made a public call for an end to Jewish settlement construction before negotiations would begin. “We want a full stop to settlements, including natural growth and in Jerusalem," Abbas said at the time. Two months earlier, Abbas made a similar call, and PA negotiator Abu Rdineh said, "Our position is the same; there will be no negotiations without stopping the settlements."
An INN commentator summed up as Obama’s new position as being “akin to telling Lieberman and the Israeli government, ‘Yes, you waited 9-10 months for the PA, and pointlessly froze construction all this time, but now please freeze it for longer, because the PA wants you to.’”