Israeli officials said yesterday they were still waiting to see a text
of the deal worked out between Netanyahu and the US secretary of state,
Hillary Clinton, in seven hours of negotiations.
In addition to the concession in the Jordan Valley and the offer of combat jets that would effectively double the annual aid from the US, the deal is said to include a promise by Washington to veto for the next year any UN resolutions Israel opposes and to refrain, after borders have been agreed, from demanding any future limits on settlement growth.
Right of return off the table, East Jerusalem – kosher to colonize
Washington’s hopeful logic is that a renewal of the freeze will be unnecessary in three months because an agreement on borders will already have established whether a settlement is to be considered included in Israel’s territory and therefore permitted to expand or inside Palestine and therefore slated for destruction.
In a similarly optimistic vein, the US apparently expects the problem of refugees simply to dissolve through the creation of a special international fund to compensate them. The right of return appears to be off the table.
If these obstacles can be surmounted this way – a very big "if" – only one significant point of contention, the future of East Jerusalem, remains to be resolved.
This is where things get more awkward. The US is not proposing that the three-month freeze apply to East Jerusalem, after settlement-building there caused friction between Israel and the US during the last moratorium.
This concession and the outlines of a previous US peace proposal under President Bill Clinton hint at Washington's most likely strategy. East Jerusalem will be divided, with the large settlement blocs, home to at least 200,000 Jews, handed over to Israel while the Old City and its holy places fall under a complicated shared sovereignty.
In the face of this intense US-Israeli diplomacy, Palestinians are
dismayed. They have described the agreement between the US and Netanyahu
as “deeply disappointing” and are demanding from the White House
similarly generous inducements to ease their path back to negotiations.
The Arab League, which has taken a prominent role in overseeing the
Palestinian negotiations, has also objected to the deal.
The Palestinians fear they will be left with a patchwork of disconnected areas – what Israel has previously termed "bubbles" – as their capital.
If the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, can be made to swallow all this, which seems highly improbable, he will then have to contend with Hamas, the rival Palestinian faction, which can be expected to do everything in its power to disrupt such an agreement.
And then there is Netanyahu. Few Israeli analysts think he has suddenly become more amenable to the US plans.
Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in the Negev and author of an important study of the occupation, believes the Israeli prime minister is simply playing the part demanded by Obama.
"He is taking the US 'merchandise' on offer, but will hold firm on key issues that guarantee the talks' failure. That way he gets the credit for keeping the negotiations on track and lets the Palestinians take the blame for walking out."
This sounds suspiciously like a re-run of the last proper peace talks, at Camp David in 2000. Then, Israeli intransigence stalled the negotiations, but Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was blamed by the US and Israel for their collapse.
A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi. The version here is published by permission of Jonathan Cook.