The US has made its offer to Israel for a 90-day “moratorium” on settlement construction in the West Bank. Some see this as a major setback in US policy. I have to say, it seems to me to be much ado about nothing.
In exchange for this moratorium, which will include a stoppage of any work begun since the end of the last “freeze” but would not include Jerusalem, the US would grant Israel the following:
- the U.S. government would deliver 20 F-35 fighter jets to Israel, a deal worth $3 billion
- if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is achieved, the U.S. would sign a comprehensive security agreement with Israel
- The US would fight against “de-legitimization” of Israel, which would include:
- curbing actions by the United Nations on the Goldstone Report
- blocking anti-Israel UN resolutions concerning the Gaza flotilla raid
- defeating international resolutions aimed at exposing Israel’s nuclear program at the International Atomic Energy Agency
- strengthening pressure on Iran and Syria in regards to their nuclear and proliferation activities.
I just don’t see much here. The recent offer reportedly put together by Dennis Ross included a blanket guarantee that the US would veto any UNSC resolution for one year on any matter critical of Israel, which would include settlement construction, for instance. There are some matters where the US might either abstain or at least threaten to do so if it wanted to pressure Israel. But it wouldn’t do so on Goldstone, the IAEA or the Mavi Marmara–any such threat would be empty and Israel would know it. Thus, the new offer is definitely more limited than the Ross one.
The big item in the Ross offer was US support for an Israel presence in the Jordan Valley, which would destroy even the illusion of a viable Palestinian state. That’s gone here, and without it, the offer seems to be little more than an explicit guarantee of things Israel would get anyway, plus the additional military equipment and arrangements. The formal security agreement is something Israel has wanted for some time, but is conditioned here on an actual Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and this was likely to happen in any case as well.
By the same token, even this new moratorium, including the fact that it encompasses work that began since the last one ended, is thoroughly meaningless since it excludes Jerusalem. The West Bank already has settlements dotting the landscape. Settlement expansion there certainly makes extant human rights violations worse, but it doesn’t change much else at this point. The damage is already done; even if not a single settlement expands in the West Bank, the existing network prevents a Palestinian state and only their removal can possibly allow one to come into being. That is the process that is accelerating in Jerusalem, and that is, therefore, the only place any sort of “moratorium” would have any real impact on the prospects for a resolution of the conflict.
That’s why it seems to me that this whole agreement means very little on either side outside of the political theater it provides and the implications that holds. And those are serious.
Bibi will make a big show of a “painful concession” and Abbas will face not only American but also European pressure to return to talks under these conditions. Clearly, also, the Obama Administration believes that, if that happens, within 90 days it can get agreement on at least some other matters. And that is unlikely to prove beneficial either to the Palestinians or to prospects for a resolution to this conflict in the long run.
The agreement itself is no big deal. The glass half full way to look at it is that the Obama Administration overcame Dennis Ross to make a much more reasonable offer to Israel to resume talks. The glass half empty view is that the Palestinians will be pressured back into talks that have little hope of yielding positive results, while the US is even more invested in getting something out of them, particularly before the new Congress convenes in January.
Time will tell which one it is, but the immediate implications of the deal, on both sides, seem negligible.