Posted by on November 23, 2010 in Blog

In an effort to reinvigorate the stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the Obama administration is reportedly offering Israel $3 billion worth of advanced fighter jets, a commitment to veto Palestinian attempts to unilaterally gain recognition from the UN, and a promise to never again ask for another settlement freeze from Israel – all in exchange for a 90-day extension of their partial settlement freeze. This deal drew criticism former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer who described it as a “bribe” and “a very bad idea” which Washington will almost certainly come to regret.”

What appears to be an act of desperation to get things moving on the negotiations track marks a significant departure from the inspiring atmosphere following the 2008 election, when President Barack Obama kicked off his presidency with a demand for a complete halt in Israel’s illegal settlement expansion on Palestinian lands. For those who follow the conflict closely and who understand the instrumental obstacle Israeli settlements pose to the two-state solution, Obama’s initial demand signaled his seriousness and raised expectations.

With the US now struggling to persuade Israel of a temporary extension of the moratorium, does it make sense for the US to offer extensive military and diplomatic incentives to Israel in exchange for a fraction of what it initially demanded and what Israel is obligated to deliver? Ambassador Kurtzer worries that, with this generous deal, the US would be setting a counterproductive precedent, warning that Washington will be left fending off a landslide of demands from others who hope to be rewarded for their bad behavior, to be paid for stopping what they should never have been doing.

But some are not so dismissive of the value of a 90-day extension in the freeze on settlements. Politico’s Ben Smith, while cautious of the many obstacles, suggests the following:

The demand for a 90-day freeze in new construction has, all sides agree, a real internal logic: American leaders have said they hope the Israelis and Palestinians will resolve the question of the border of a Palestinian state. And once that’s resolved, the issue of settlements — which Obama raised at his Cairo speech last June, and which has emerged as a prime impediment to talks — will, the theory goes, be resolved with it. The scenario: Most of the “settlements” will be put within mutually agreed borders of Israel, the rest will be clearly out of bounds, and the residents of far-flung Jewish communities on West Bank hilltops will be on notice that Israeli soldiers will soon be knocking on their doors to drag them out of the state of Palestine.

As of last week, Netanyahu was insisting that the US send the offer in writing before it is to be considered, with some tentative news reports now suggesting the offer has formally been made in writing. In the meantime, Israel passed a law that upped the hurdle against any meaningful pullback from lands illegally annexed, requiring a two-thirds Knesset majority or a referendum for such a withdrawal. Whether or not Israel agrees to the Obama administration’s deal, it’s clear that President Obama has conceded considerable ground and has lost a good deal of credibility, with Israelis and Palestinians now blaming him for the current stalemate, as well as each other.

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