by Ira Sharkansky
Reading the announcements of government officials is more of an art than a science. It is appropriate to weigh the use of certain words rather than others, and take note of what a statement does not say. No one, including those involved in its preparation, can claim certainty as to how it should be read, much less what it can lead to as one statement provokes others from allies and antagonists.
Consider Prime Minister Netanyahu's announcement that his government has agreed to a freeze of new housing construction in the West Bank (excluding
While members of the government trumpeted the announcement as a gesture that should move the Palestinians, It did not take long for commentators to declare it a dead letter. Sure enough, within a day ranking Palestinians reiterated their new position that they would only start negotiations when there was a total freeze of construction (homes and other facilities), including the post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
What does all this mean?
One interpretation is that it reflects the teething problems of the American president. When he and his secretary of state emphasized the need to freeze settlements, and included
Another interpretation, not altogether different, is that the talk of negotiations is a game without end played by numerous governments. If officials are wise and have noticed what has happened since
Even though wise leaders may recognize that reality, they cannot admit it, and give up the quest for peace. Who could do that when the future of the
The result is that emissaries flit hither and yon, trying one idea after another, all the while gaining publicity and feeding the media's needs for a story. Minor players puff themselves up and offer their services as mediators. It is hard to tell them "no," but it is appropriate to weigh the expressions of "yes" to know if they are anything more than words.
The government's freeze for 10 months appears to be no more than a gesture for the Americans, knowing that it might not be enough to attract the Palestinians.
The gesture has not come smoothly. Netanyahu has distanced himself from one minister who has termed the Obama administration "dreadful."
Among the problems of the freeze is its implementation. The attorney general told the government, during the session when the freeze was approved, that there were not enough building inspectors to enforce it. Things more substantial than curtains will be added to existing structures in the
Settler leaders have expressed anger. They use the word "traitor" in condemnations of the government's action, symbolic as it may be. We hear of young couples who cannot find housing in the same settlement as their parents. Whether they actually build is yet to be seen. One must reckon with the political influence of the settlers. To ride roughshod over them would be like Barack Obama riding roughshod over insurance companies and physicians while passing his health reform. Such things do not happen in the American democracy, or in the Israeli democracy.
If there was any life in the peace process, it appears that the Barack administration killed it by an ill advised overreach (complete settlement freeze, including
The terms evil and stupid are not appropriate, but naive is sufficiently polite and accurate. President Obama came on the stage of international politics with a great deal of support in the
It is timely to say once again that, compared to other democracies, the
Enjoy what you think is best, my American friends. The rest of us will do what we can to minimize the damage.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
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