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Bibi Victorious

With freeze over and talks alive, PM gets the win

Marc Tracy
September 28, 2010
Prime Minister Netanyahu last week.(David Buimovitch-Pool/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Netanyahu last week.(David Buimovitch-Pool/Getty Images)

How far we have come from only six months ago, when Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government was on the hook for derailing peace hopes when it announced new East Jerusalem building the day Vice President Biden came to town. Today, Bibi is sitting pretty: Earlier this summer, he demonstrated to the world (but mostly to the Obama administration) that he would sit down for direct talks with President Abbas, without preconditions; and this past weekend, he demonstrated to his right-wing coalition and to center-right Israelis that he would stay true to his word and allow the ten-month West Bank construction freeze to expire. He did so in a quiet, unostentatious way, so that the Americans have been sympathetic to his political needs and so that the burden has now fallen on Abbas, who must either leave the talks—thereby earning the Americans’ ire, fairly or not—or, more likely, continue with them despite his top precondition having been ignored, thereby projecting just how little weight he has to throw around. (The wild card, as Ron Kampeas notes, is whether Fatah can manage to strike a deal with Hamas. I’d not be on it.)

President Obama probably still favors a continued moratorium, and his diplomats may be trying to coax another two months of freeze, like a bargaining addict. But with the narrative having shifted and with most of the U.S. Senate on Israel’s side, nothing will come of it. “The onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away,” Hussein Ibish tells Ben Smith. “That’s not fair but it’s the way it is.” Israel’s American-born ambassador Michael Oren duly trotted out a football metaphor: “[The Palestinians are] like a football team that lets the clock run down to one second and then demands overtime. They thought they would win some big diplomatic victory by running down the clock.” (By the way, Richard Cohen makes a convincing case that this state of affairs is actually the Obama administration’s fault.)

So what’s next?

Influential Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn, who calls Netanyahu “the winner,” has some idea:

Abbas and Obama will swallow the end of the freeze and wait for Israel to stumble by approving a provocative building plan. Then they will try to trap Netanyahu again and threaten him with a diplomatic crisis or endanger his coalition. …

At the end of the freeze, Netanyahu finds himself exactly where he wants to be: at the political center, without having made decisions that would force him to choose a side. All the balls are in the air: The Labor Party and Kadima got the diplomatic process they wanted, and the right got renewed construction in the West Bank. The real decisions, if there will be any, have been left for next summer, just before the deadline on negotiations for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

And people say the Mideast peace process makes you cynical!

Meanwhile, new building has begun (and with it have arrived new jobs for Palestinians—no, seriously!). The weekend was very, very good to Bibi.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.