Abbas Silent on Freeze

Analysis: The Likud is squabbling over a new building freeze, Kadima waits in the wings, Obama cheers – and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is silent.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu , | updated: 09:50

Netanyahu, Obama and Abbas
Netanyahu, Obama and Abbas
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Palestinian Authority leaders are railing against the American plan of a new “non-renewable” building freeze, but PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is holding the trump card and keeping a poker face.

He has let his aides reject the proposal, hatched during conversations between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington last week, but he has not spoken.

The script of the suggested 90-day freeze is also most a carbon copy of the 10-month freeze established last year. The intent of both freezes – the one that expired and the one that still is being hatched – was to bring Abbas and Israel together for direct talks on establishing the PA as a state on the Land of Israel where more than 300,000 Jews live in approximately 150 communities. These do not include another 300,000 in Jerusalem neighborhoods where the PA also wants sovereignty.

Similar to last year, nationalists in the government are up in arms, and senior ministers said they will vote against the plan. Similar to last year and in the past, several of them, including Shas,  now are ready to abstain, giving Prime Minister Netanyahu an apparent one-vote majority.

Also like last year, U.S. President Barack Obama has publicly praised Prime Minister Netanyahu while Kadima leader Tzipi Livni waits in the wings for a crack in the coalition government that would leave the Prime Minister no option other than to turn to Kadima. If that was President Obama’s hope, it did not work last year, and this time around, the government is even more nationalist and less likely to fall apart.

On the other side, the Palestinian Authority and the Arabs world also are following last year’s script – waiting for Israel to move, publicly condemning the idea and delaying an answer until their leaders discuss the plan, which still may be changed by the Israeli Cabinet before it comes up for a vote.

The new plan by Secretary Clinton holds out the carrot to Abbas that permanent Palestinian Authority borders, a subject which has been a Gordian knot for more than 15 years of talks, will be defined within 90 days. The Obama administration is counting on the Arab world to follow last year’s script and not be the loser in the ”blame game” for turning down the president of the United States and ditching the diplomatic process once and for all.

So far, Arab leaders are making last year’s diplomatic maneuvers look like a dress rehearsal.

While Abbas remains silent, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said that the building freeze must be "comprehensive," meaning it must include areas in Jerusalem. PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said it will be difficult for the PA to accept the freeze because it does not include areas in southern, eastern and northern Jerusalem, but he did not say the PA would reject the idea.

Abbas has claimed he knows nothing of the proposed plan, but, if so, that will change by Monday afternoon. David Hale, assistant to U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, is to brief Abbas on Monday in Ramallah, according to the French news agency AFP.

Several weeks ago, the Arab League gave the American government one month to pressure Israel into halting all building for Jews in PA-claimed areas of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. It later extended the deadline for a month but warned that if President Obama cannot deliver the goods, the PA would turn to the United Nations for unilateral recognition as a state.

Hamas advisor Yousef Rezqah, of course, scored Clinton's proposal as proof of the “ongoing biased American stance towards the Zionist occupation." The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) released a statement that the American proposal “legalizes settlement and annexing [of] Jerusalem."