Volume 3, Number 147
"There's a Jewish story everywhere"

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rhetorical war on settlements appears to be easing

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM—In his Cairo speech, Barack Obama pressed at least as hard on the Palestinians and other Arabs as on Israel.

That view was lost in the onslaught from Israelis and their supporters who perceived any criticism to be off limits, and disproportionate to whatever the president said about Arabs.

A few days later I joined the criticism of the administration when Hillary declared that it would permit no construction in the settlements, and a senior aide included my own neighborhood of Jerusalem in that prohibition.

Despite my caution that she was violating US Government policy about our apartment, Varda went ahead and ordered new curtains.

Fortunately for our dining room, the latest from the White House is less autocratic. Israeli officials are reminding the president what he said in Cairo about the need for movement by the Arabs. Presidential aides have spoken of a constructive dialog with Israel. One of Bush's aides has said that the Obama administration is wrong about their being no previous agreement with Israel about limited construction in the settlements. Can we hope that Hillary will change her mind? If the Americans have not forgotten how to do politics, there may be a reasonable conclusion to this fracas.

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Let me risk some predictions.

Israel will agree, once again, to limit construction in the settlements. There is a proposal to freeze building not already underway for six months. Settlers will say that the government is choking them, but the money and planning approvals for construction will dry up, perhaps not as completely as the policy suggests.

A settlement freeze will not be enough for Palestinian leaders. In the absence of an equivalent gesture to build confidence among Israelis, construction will resume.

Leftists in Israel and elsewhere will cry injustice and foolishness, but the settlers have more weight than they do in Israeli politics.

There will be spurts of construction and stoppages, most likely beyond the point where I am able to write about them. Eventually, Andorra may be larger and more powerful than what remains for a Palestinian state.

What do I want?

That is less important than what I expect. I have tired of schemes to divide the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, insofar as those who speak for Palestinians have rejected every offer. I respect the capacity of Israel's institutions to decide for Israel, more than I respect the plans made by American and European politicians, overseas Jews, Christians, or others.

Israeli politicians have been sufficiently balanced to guard against moving too far from what powerful others will tolerate. As long as that continues, I can grow older with a minimum of worries.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University. Email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

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