U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell begins three days of talks with Israel and the Palestinian Authority Wednesday following PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ statement he will consider direct talks in four months, meaning in return for an extension of the building freeze which is set to end at that time.
Abbas’ move gives him the upper hand in what has become a diplomatic struggle over which side can blame the other for what is widely viewed as fruitless efforts by the United States.
Mitchell began his visit by examining the flow of previously embargoed commodities being transferred by Israel to Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Earlier in the morning, Gaza terrorists attacked a nearby Jewish community in the western Negev with a powerful Kassam rocket that destroyed a packing house.
Residents told Voice of Israel government radio that Mitchell should be concerned with their humanitarian situation in the face of Gaza terror instead of worrying about increased shipments for Gaza while its terrorists continue to attack Israel.
Mitchell is armed by mainstream American media that generally have accepted U.S. President Barack Obama’s view that Israel should freeze all building for Jews in areas of Jerusalem claimed by the PA, as well as all of Judea and Samaria. Last fall, Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month freeze as a concession to both the Obama administration and Abbas.
The PA leader now has made a permanent freeze a condition for returning to face-to-face talks with the Prime Minister’s negotiating team.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threw ice water on Mitchell’s attempts Tuesday, telling his visiting Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that there is no chance of the PA becoming an independent state before 2012.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has strong backing in Israel for a thaw in the building freeze that has left growing families and schools without solutions. Gershon Mesika, chairman of the Samaria (Shomron) Regional Council, told the Knesset Education Committee Wednesday morning that the September school year cannot be opened unless immediate approval is given for 27 permits for classrooms.
The Likud party has lined up solidly for Prime Minister Netanyahu to fulfill his promise that the 10-month freeze will not be extended, despite support for Mitchell's stand from left-wing Israeli media such as Haaretz newspaper, and the highly influential American weekly news magazine Newsweek.
The weekly carried an article in early June that alleged similarities between the Bush and Netanyahu governments. Newsweek , whose dislike of the Republican Bush was well known, described both leaders as ideological and right-wing, with a population traumatized by terrorist attacks and a government of military officers as advisers who advocate a campaign against Muslim terrorism.
The Newsweek article continued its comparison and added, “The world doesn’t see it that way, and despite impressive deployments of troops—and plenty of military victories—the nation becomes more and more diplomatically isolated, tarnishing its reputation as a beacon of freedom.”
Newsweek’s conclusion resembles the pressure filled strategy of the Obama administration. Netanyahu has “deployed overwhelming force where nuanced, tactical approaches would have worked better, spurned international opinion; and ignored gathering discontent among voters at home,” the magazine asserted. “Staying the course…could do serious harm to Israel’s reputation abroad and be disastrous for Netanyahu and his Likud Party at home.
“As the world is turning against Netanyahu, so are Israelis: a poll last month showed that a majority of voters don’t approve of the prime minister…. Policymakers in Washington, its lockstep ally, are tearing their hair out over Netanyahu’s settlement intransigence.”
In fact, all public opinion polls that past year have shown that if elections were held today, the Likud party and the nationalist camp would maintain their strength -- if not grow even stronger. Surveys all show that a large of majority of Israelis, as well as PA Arabs, do not believe that the PA and Israel can come to an agreement.