NY Times blames Israel for U.S., Palestinian failures to advance the peace process

Leo Rennert
The Obama administration has withdrawn a package of security and diplomatic incentives for Israel in exchange for a three-month extension of a building moratorium in West Bank settlements, admitting that this wouldn't bring about resumption of Israel-Palestinian peace talks.  So who's to blame for this breakdown in the peace process?

In his Dec. 8 front-page article, New York Times correspondent Mark Landler fingers Israel as the culprit.  "After three weeks of fruitless haggling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," he writes in his lead paragraph, "the Obama administration has given up its effort to persuade the Israeli government to freeze construction of Jewish settles for 90 days."

The inference is clear.  Netanyahu torpedoed this latest U.S. initiative to restart direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, sinking it with "three weeks of fruitless haggling." The facts, however, prove otherwise.

Following a seven-hour meeting in New York between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu in mid-November, the administration cobbled together a package of incentives to make it more palatable to Israel to agree to another construction freeze in Jewish settlements -- this one for 90 days.  Netanyahu was amenable and promised to put the deal to a vote of his security cabinet once Clinton put in writing the oral understandings reached by him and the Secretary -- that this would be the last time that the U.S. would pressure Israel for a construction freeze to bring Mahmoud Abbas to the bargaining table, that like the previous 10-month moratorium, the freeze would extend to West Bank settlements but not to East Jerusalem, that Israel would get 20 advanced American jet-fighter planes, and that the Obama administration would pledge to veto any and all anti-Israel resolutions that might come before the UN Security Council.

These were the terms agreed upon orally by Clinton and Netanyahu -- and in fairly short order after last month's New York meeting. All that Bibi wanted was written confirmation to nail down a majority vote in his cabinet. This hardly comports with Landler's assertion of "three weeks of fruitless haggling" between Netanyahu and the Obama administration.

The actual blame for the collapse of the U.S. plan lies mainly elsewhere.

For starters, the Palestinian Authority launched a fierce attack on the proposed deal immediately after its terms became known.  Abbas made it clear that a 90-day moratorium would not bring him to the negotiating table.  He upped the ante and insisted that any freeze also had to apply to Jewish construction in East Jerusalem, including in all its Jewish neighborhoods. In effect, this was an Abbas veto of the U.S. proposal. Even with a 90-day freeze in the West Bank, he wouldn't play

Clinton also came to the stark realization that she had been wrong in expecting that a 90-day renewal of negotiation would be sufficient to reach a final agreement on borders of a Palestinian state.  How can you define such borders without also including Jerusalem, the toughest nut to crack in any final peace agreement?  Abbas insisted that a Palestinian state would have to include the entire Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest sites. Clinton now acknowledges that, even if Abbas had been ready to cooperate and return to direct negotiations for 90 days, this wouldn't have been a fruitful path to a major breakthrough in resolving final-status issues.

Finally, as it became clear that the U.S. side had growing difficulties in putting the Clinton-Netanyahu agreement into writing, there were media reports that President Obama was reluctant to endorse the full package of U.S. incentives because he thought Clinton promised too much to Netanyahu.

So in assigning blame for this U.S. failure, it's rather evident that Abbas, Clinton, and possible discord between the president and his secretary of state rank as more responsible culprits than Netanyahu.

But this wasn't sufficient to deter Landler and the New York Times from engaging in historical revisionism in order to portray Netanyahu as the prime villain in this little drama.  And Abbas, who did far more to torpedo the deal, gets a pass as usual in the New York Times.
The Obama administration has withdrawn a package of security and diplomatic incentives for Israel in exchange for a three-month extension of a building moratorium in West Bank settlements, admitting that this wouldn't bring about resumption of Israel-Palestinian peace talks.  So who's to blame for this breakdown in the peace process?

In his Dec. 8 front-page article, New York Times correspondent Mark Landler fingers Israel as the culprit.  "After three weeks of fruitless haggling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," he writes in his lead paragraph, "the Obama administration has given up its effort to persuade the Israeli government to freeze construction of Jewish settles for 90 days."

The inference is clear.  Netanyahu torpedoed this latest U.S. initiative to restart direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, sinking it with "three weeks of fruitless haggling." The facts, however, prove otherwise.

Following a seven-hour meeting in New York between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu in mid-November, the administration cobbled together a package of incentives to make it more palatable to Israel to agree to another construction freeze in Jewish settlements -- this one for 90 days.  Netanyahu was amenable and promised to put the deal to a vote of his security cabinet once Clinton put in writing the oral understandings reached by him and the Secretary -- that this would be the last time that the U.S. would pressure Israel for a construction freeze to bring Mahmoud Abbas to the bargaining table, that like the previous 10-month moratorium, the freeze would extend to West Bank settlements but not to East Jerusalem, that Israel would get 20 advanced American jet-fighter planes, and that the Obama administration would pledge to veto any and all anti-Israel resolutions that might come before the UN Security Council.

These were the terms agreed upon orally by Clinton and Netanyahu -- and in fairly short order after last month's New York meeting. All that Bibi wanted was written confirmation to nail down a majority vote in his cabinet. This hardly comports with Landler's assertion of "three weeks of fruitless haggling" between Netanyahu and the Obama administration.

The actual blame for the collapse of the U.S. plan lies mainly elsewhere.

For starters, the Palestinian Authority launched a fierce attack on the proposed deal immediately after its terms became known.  Abbas made it clear that a 90-day moratorium would not bring him to the negotiating table.  He upped the ante and insisted that any freeze also had to apply to Jewish construction in East Jerusalem, including in all its Jewish neighborhoods. In effect, this was an Abbas veto of the U.S. proposal. Even with a 90-day freeze in the West Bank, he wouldn't play

Clinton also came to the stark realization that she had been wrong in expecting that a 90-day renewal of negotiation would be sufficient to reach a final agreement on borders of a Palestinian state.  How can you define such borders without also including Jerusalem, the toughest nut to crack in any final peace agreement?  Abbas insisted that a Palestinian state would have to include the entire Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest sites. Clinton now acknowledges that, even if Abbas had been ready to cooperate and return to direct negotiations for 90 days, this wouldn't have been a fruitful path to a major breakthrough in resolving final-status issues.

Finally, as it became clear that the U.S. side had growing difficulties in putting the Clinton-Netanyahu agreement into writing, there were media reports that President Obama was reluctant to endorse the full package of U.S. incentives because he thought Clinton promised too much to Netanyahu.

So in assigning blame for this U.S. failure, it's rather evident that Abbas, Clinton, and possible discord between the president and his secretary of state rank as more responsible culprits than Netanyahu.

But this wasn't sufficient to deter Landler and the New York Times from engaging in historical revisionism in order to portray Netanyahu as the prime villain in this little drama.  And Abbas, who did far more to torpedo the deal, gets a pass as usual in the New York Times.