A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 15, 2010

The F-35s for Settlements Deal

It now looks as if Binyamin Netanyahu will impose a 90-day moratorium on settlement building, in exchange for the package of incentives offered by the Obama Administration, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The proposal is expected to split Israel's diplomatic/security Cabinet, which must approve it. Since the religious Shas Party is expected to abstain, Netanyahu is likely to be able to count on about seven votes for the proposal, versus six against, for the narrowest possible win, by one vote.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, from Labor, has said the defense package is more important than Likud's internal quarrels.

Israel had already ordered 20 of the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighters, but the cost of the package was controversial; the US offer now would apparently provide them free in return for the 90-day setltement freeze.

Some are comparing the situation to 1991, when the George H.W. Bush Administration threatened to withhold loan guarantees unless Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed to the Madrid Peace Conference. But the present incentive package seems to be all carrot, while that instance was mostly stick.

Mark Lynch today sagely asks, "What if they don't solve Israeli-Palestinian borders in 90 days?"
As he notes:
It's easy to be skeptical. The United States seems to be giving a lot for a temporary fix which only kicks the can down the road another few months, while neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians seem to see this as a moment of opportunity. The deal only makes sense if serious progress on reaching agreement on borders can be made in three months. But the three months in question include Thanksgiving, the Eid al-Adha, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, and the seating of the new U.S. Congress. Even if the parties have already sketched out the contours of the deal -- and I sure hope they did that spadework before committing themselves to such a high-stakes deadline, though I'm kind of afraid that they didn't -- experience suggests that getting that deal through the Israeli and Palestinian systems won't be easy. Since the United States promises not to ask for another extension, the 90-day deadline gives all kinds of incentives for those who don't really want a deal to stall. Oh, all right… I'm skeptical.
So am I, mostly because of the sense of deja vu. We are essentially bribing Israel for a 90 day freeze, but for all the reasons noted above, does anyone really think the next 90 days are going to produce an agreement? And then what? Do we ante up more F-35s?

If Netanyahu does carry the deal by a single vote in the security Cabinet, he'll be unlikely to take even greater risks for future extensions. The present coalition, which is mostly to the right of Netanyahu, is hard to envision making hard decisions on settlements, but unless Netanyahu is ready to fight new elections for peace (which he's shown no sign of being eager to do), I'm not sure we'll be getting our money's worth.

1 comment:

Wastafarian said...

Exclusive! Blogging the Casbah has a recording of the Obama - Netanyahu conversation, including the F-35 offer:

http://bloggingthecasbah.blogspot.com/2010/11/exclusive-obama-netanyahu-conversation.html