Daily Israel Report

Minister Landau: US Demanding Much More Than 3-Month Freeze

Media is wrong, says minister; Israel won't get promised benefits for an extended freeze, they only kick in if a full agreement is reached.
By David Lev
First Publish: 11/16/2010, 7:17 PM / Last Update: 11/16/2010, 7:42 PM

Yoni Kempinski

Contrary to reports in the media that portray the U.S. as giving Israel a “package” of “benefits” for another three months of building freeze in Judea and Samaria, Washington is actually demanding a lot more for its largesse – far more than Israel can safely agree to, said Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau of Yisrael Beiteinu.

Landau, along with other ministers and Knesset Members – including many Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu ministers, and coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin – are up in arms over the proposed renewal of the building freeze in Judea and Samaria, and have vowed to fight it with all means at their disposal.

Part of the fight, Landau said in a Voice of Israel Radio interview Tuesday morning, was changing the perception of the “deal” the United States. had ostensibly offered Israel for the freeze extension.

According to Landau, the conditions for the deal are far different than those being portrayed in the Israeli media, which is telling Israelis that in exchange for a “small” Israeli gesture of an additional three month freeze, Jerusalem will receive a bundle of benefits, including additional advanced F-35 fighter jets, and an American guarantee to veto any anti-Israel proposals at the United Nations and other world bodies – and to similarly smash any attempt by the Palestinian Authority to seek U.N. approval for a declaration of independence for an Arab state in Judea and Samaria.

But the United States doesn't just want a three month extension, said Landau. When asked why he was opposed to so much benefit for “only” three more months of a building freeze, Landau responded, “Israel has failed to learn from the past. President Obama is ignoring previous promises, also written in a letter, that President Bush presented to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Those promises, too, were portrayed as a great diplomatic achievement.

"All the American promises share a similar characteristic – they lack specifics, and are not carried out if they are found to be damaging to American interests.” That was the case with the 2003 letter Bush presented Sharon, ostensibly recognizing Israel's right to retain the “settlement blocs” in the event of a deal with the PA; in the end, that American promise has been rescinded by President Barack Obama because he has decided it is in American interests to do so.

“Here too, with the Obama promises, we must see the structure of the deal – and you see that the Americans are demanding that we come to a full agreement with the PA in order for the benefits to kick in,"Landau explained. "You only get the benefits in the event of a final-status agreement – only when everything is over.” Given the history of Israel-PA negotiations, the likelihood of that happening is “very low,” he added.

Perhaps even worse, Landau said, the understandings between Israel and the United States – which included American opposition to a unilaterally declared PA state – are apparently no longer extant, and have instead been turned into a “sword of Damocles,” to be held over the head of Israel.

“Until now, it was understood that the U.S. would veto” sanctions against Israel, or a non-negotiated settlement of the Middle East conflict. Apparently that has changed, Landau said. “The veto was promised and taken as a matter of course, as long as progress was being made and negotiations were continuing. No 'gestures' were required to expect it. Now, the American veto is being used as a threat against our negotiators, pressuring them to surrender our positions. If in a year there is no deal – and it's unlikely there will be – the threat will descend like a sword on our heads, and the U.S. will blame us” and vote against Israel, Landau said.

“That's why the Likud is presenting this deal as a 'honey trap.' They are right, but we're much more likely to fall into the trap than to enjoy any honey,” Landau added.

Agreeing to this arrangement would only hurt Israel, Landau said. “We always want to make a deal, but our basic interests are now starting to be harmed. Sometimes, in order to make progress, you have to say 'no.'” Israel has already given up on several points it once held dear –first amont them, agreeing to a Palestinian state, which “the Palestinians did not appreciate, and they even refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – and even worse, PA chief Mahmoud Abbas has declared that 'no Jew will live among them.'”

Similarly, for its trouble in declaring a unilateral building freeze, Landau said, Israel did not get a peace deal with the PA, or even “credit” from the U.S. - just more pressure to continue the freeze, Landau added. “Instead of asking the Palestinians to make similar 'gestures,' the U.S. comes back to us.” Concessions only bring more concessions, Landau said, with the biggest concession of all – the setting up of a state by the PA without any compromise whatsoever on Abbas' part – just around the bend.

These are the consequences of making concessions, Landau said – and he intends to do whatever is possible to ensure that this concession does not take place.