Home > Ira Sharkansky, Israel > Looming expiration of building freeze a crisis for Mideast talks

Looming expiration of building freeze a crisis for Mideast talks

September 19, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
By Ira Sharkansky  

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — The pressure is building, both on Israel and the Palestinians. 

The immediate issue is the freeze on building in the settlements, set to expire in about a week.

Various Palestinians have said, time and again, that they would cease the peace talks if there is construction of even one building in the Jewish settlements.

The American President and Secretary of State have said on several occasions that it would be wise for Israel to extend the freeze on building in settlements as a gesture to the Palestinians in order keep the peace talks going.

The General Secretary of the United Nations has signed on to the campaign, along with the Chancellor of Germany.

The Geneva Initiative is an Israeli organization that claimed years ago to have found Palestinian partners to its proposals of divisions of the land, including Jerusalem. The Initiative receives financial support from European governments, foundations, and the United States government agency, AID.

At least some of the Palestinians claimed as partners by the Geneva Initiative deny having agreed to the deals that Initiative people say they  reached with them.

Ha’aretz had a paid ad from the Geneva Initiative, covering a quarter of its front page, inviting us all to a  meeting on the peace process that will feature a speech by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He is scheduled presumably at a time when he will not be in court listening to witnesses concerned with his trial on several varieties of corruption.

When he was still in office, but a lame duck and perhaps concerned about criminal indictments and the impending end of his political career, Prime Minister Olmert made what was said to be the most far reaching offers to the Palestinians ever made by an Israeli official. Israelis were concerned that he had gone beyond any terms likely to be accepted by his government. Mahmoud Abbas saved Israelis the need to continue their debate by rejecting Olmert’s offers as insufficient.

Pressure on the present government is also coming from the settlers. They are demanding no continuation of the freeze on construction. Their supporters in the government are threatening a political crisis if building does not go forward in all parts of the West Bank.

news.walla.co.il is asking Israelis for responses to the following:

Palestinians demand the continuation of the settlement freeze.

24 percent indicate that the freeze should continue, in order to give peace a chance

25 percent indicate that it would be wrong to agree to the Palestinians insistence

16 percent say that it is necessary to reach an understanding between the sides

35 percent say that it is necessary to build without considering Palestinian opinion

588 people have answered the query so far.

Respondents to Walla’s queries appear generally to be a bit right of center, but I would not say that they are usually extreme. Those capable of following the Hebrew can check the latest numbers .

Speculation about what will happen when the freeze is due to expire has been among the most prominent items in Israeli media. The topic does not appear in the headlines of the foreign sites on my home page, so it may only be a tempest in a local tea pot.

One can guess from the comments of the Prime Minister, several members of his government, and various public personalities that there will not be a continuation of a total freeze, but neither will there be the wholesale onset of construction.

Perhaps building will proceed in the large blocs that Israel expects to absorb, or some continuation of projects that had been approved before the onset of the freeze 10 months ago.
Actions on the ground may differ from what prominent actors say will happen. The implementation of declared policy is not assured from either Israeli or Palestinian officials.

There is also pressure on the Palestinians not to abandon the talks if there is construction. Hillary Clinton, who has screeched at the Israelis on several occasions, said recently that if these talks do not produce results, the United States would be inclined to abandon its mission of bringing peace to this part of the Middle East.

Together with her public urgings on the Palestinians to keep talking, that amounts to at least the same amount of pressure applied to the Palestinians as she is putting on the Israelis.

The settlement freeze is not the only concern in this besieged little place. A headline on the web site of Aljazeera:

New aid convoy sets off for Gaza

Viva Palestina vehicles leave London en route to besieged Strip for what organisers say will be biggest aid convoy yet.

Organizers say that this will be a combination of trucks moving through Europe to ports on the Mediterranean, along with at least one ship leaving from Britain. They are talking about a docking of ships in Egypt, and the movement of supplies from there over land to Gaza.

Previous efforts of this kind have been halted by countries not letting ships leave from their ports, and the Egyptians not letting someone else control what goes into Gaza.

All this may look like nothing more than waves in a tea cup from where you sit. And by sometime next week, maybe also from where I sit.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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