A senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem said Thursday that there is “no chance” that US President Barack Obama would consent to renewed settlement construction in two months' time, even if Israel consents to extending the building freeze in Judea and Samaria.
The source told Arutz Sheva's Ben Shaul that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been unable to get Obama to promise that if an agreement on borders between Israel and a future PA state is not reached within 60 days, Obama would not request another extension of the anti-Jewish construction moratorium. “There is no chance of getting Obama's agreement for renewing construction in two months, especially when Obama sees the entire settlement project as illegal according to international law,” the source explained.
Sources in the nationalist camp blame Defense Minister Ehud Barak for formulating the American demands. They estimate that Barak knows that if the freeze is not extended he may have to exit the coalition, thus putting an end to his political career.
Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, confirmed in a Washington Post interview Thursday that the Obama administration has offered certain benefits to Israel if it agrees to extend the anti-Jewish construction freeze in Judea and Samaria.
“The moratorium was a one-time gesture to the Palestinians, to the president, to get everyone back in the peace talks,” Oren told the Post's Jackson Diehl. “The Palestinians basically frittered away most of this period,” he explained.
When President Obama asked Israel for an extension of the freeze, “this created great political difficulties for the Prime Minister,” he added. “His own party, the Likud was opposed to the moratorium... and also there was a basic credibility problem. The Prime Minister had given his word that this was going to be ten months – not eleven, not twelve – and he feared that if at the beginning of the process his credibility was going to be so grievously damaged, that at the end of the process, when was going to have to give his word to the Israeli people that a two state solution would be in their benefit, nobody would believe him.”
“With that,” Oren said, “the Administration has come back to Israel with a number of suggestions, incentives if you will, that would enable the government to maybe pass a limited extension of two or three months.” Matters are coming to a head now as talks are also being held with the PA and the Arab League, and the situation should be clarified by Friday, he estimated.
In a column, Diehl asked: “So why has the Obama administration chosen to focus its diplomacy on extracting a purely symbolic but next-to-impossible concession from Netanyahu? That will be the question worth asking if the peace process breaks down this weekend.”
A breakdown of the talks could hurt the Democratic party in the November midterm election, and this may be the reason why Obama is so keen on extending the freeze, if only for a short time.