Who killed Netanyahu-Clinton deal for construction freeze extension?

Leo Rennert
It was hailed as another one of those supposed breakthroughs in the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  After seven hours of intense negotiations in New York between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu, it seemed a done deal.  In exchange for a three-month extension of a construction freeze in West Bank Jewish settlements as an inducement to Mahmoud Abbas to restart peace talks, Israel would receive a package of U.S. incentives -- some 20 advanced fighter aircraft, a U.S. pledge to veto any anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Security Council, and an Obama administration promise not to ask for further Israeli building moratoriums.

 Now, weeks later, the deal has vanished like a mirage in Mideast sands.  Israel kept waiting for the Americans to put the quid-pro-quo in writing so Netanyahu could ask his Cabinet to ratify it.  But an American letter confirming the New York agreement between Bibi and Hillary never materialized.  Now, the Obama administration is left with having to go back to the drawing board. It's an embarrassing setback for the Secretary of State -- as embarrassing as her naive expectation that if the Palestinians returned to the negotiating table just long enough -- no more than three months -- the two sides could reach an agreement on final borders, which would end once and for all disputes over where Israelis could continue to build in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Palestinians, however, never endorsed the Clinton-Netanyahu outline for a three-month freeze extension.  And neither, it seems, did President Obama.   In fact, there have been suggestions in both Washington and Jerusalem that Obama cut the legs from under his secretary of state by rejecting the terms she and Bibi hammered out in New York.  Obama, it has been suggested, thought Clinton promised too much to Netanyahu.

The question now is whether this latest misstep in Mideast diplomacy will have a sobering effect on both Obama and Clinton, whether they will construe it as a teachable moment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not susceptible to quickie Washington solutions based on wild expectations.  The two sides are much too far apart, especially given Mahmoud Abbas's refusal to offer any Palestinian compromises or concessions whatsoever, plus a Palestinian polity sharply divided between Fatah rule in the West Bank and Hamas control of Gaza.

How are you going to hammer out a final peace deal when no one knows who really speaks for the Palestinians?  It's been more than a year since Abbas's legal term as president of the Palestinian Authority expired.  So he lacks any democratic legitimacy.  And Hamas has been resolutely opposed to any negotiations leading to a two-state solution.

So, applying U.S. pressure on a half-way compliant Netanyahu to halt Jews in West Bank communities from building more homes -- first for a 10-month period and, in the latest diplomatic flop, for a three-month freeze extension -- just to get a recalcitrant Abbas to the negotiating table was bound to fail. 

Obama and Clinton now have two choices -- continue with a new tack but the same objective to achieve a final peace agreement in the next year or two, a sure loser, or build gradually closer PA-Israeli ties from the ground up, while strengthening the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and keeping Hamas in its Gaza cage.  Not as dramatic an agenda as a final peace deal, but perhaps somewhat more promising and achievable.
It was hailed as another one of those supposed breakthroughs in the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  After seven hours of intense negotiations in New York between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu, it seemed a done deal.  In exchange for a three-month extension of a construction freeze in West Bank Jewish settlements as an inducement to Mahmoud Abbas to restart peace talks, Israel would receive a package of U.S. incentives -- some 20 advanced fighter aircraft, a U.S. pledge to veto any anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Security Council, and an Obama administration promise not to ask for further Israeli building moratoriums.

 Now, weeks later, the deal has vanished like a mirage in Mideast sands.  Israel kept waiting for the Americans to put the quid-pro-quo in writing so Netanyahu could ask his Cabinet to ratify it.  But an American letter confirming the New York agreement between Bibi and Hillary never materialized.  Now, the Obama administration is left with having to go back to the drawing board. It's an embarrassing setback for the Secretary of State -- as embarrassing as her naive expectation that if the Palestinians returned to the negotiating table just long enough -- no more than three months -- the two sides could reach an agreement on final borders, which would end once and for all disputes over where Israelis could continue to build in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Palestinians, however, never endorsed the Clinton-Netanyahu outline for a three-month freeze extension.  And neither, it seems, did President Obama.   In fact, there have been suggestions in both Washington and Jerusalem that Obama cut the legs from under his secretary of state by rejecting the terms she and Bibi hammered out in New York.  Obama, it has been suggested, thought Clinton promised too much to Netanyahu.

The question now is whether this latest misstep in Mideast diplomacy will have a sobering effect on both Obama and Clinton, whether they will construe it as a teachable moment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not susceptible to quickie Washington solutions based on wild expectations.  The two sides are much too far apart, especially given Mahmoud Abbas's refusal to offer any Palestinian compromises or concessions whatsoever, plus a Palestinian polity sharply divided between Fatah rule in the West Bank and Hamas control of Gaza.

How are you going to hammer out a final peace deal when no one knows who really speaks for the Palestinians?  It's been more than a year since Abbas's legal term as president of the Palestinian Authority expired.  So he lacks any democratic legitimacy.  And Hamas has been resolutely opposed to any negotiations leading to a two-state solution.

So, applying U.S. pressure on a half-way compliant Netanyahu to halt Jews in West Bank communities from building more homes -- first for a 10-month period and, in the latest diplomatic flop, for a three-month freeze extension -- just to get a recalcitrant Abbas to the negotiating table was bound to fail. 

Obama and Clinton now have two choices -- continue with a new tack but the same objective to achieve a final peace agreement in the next year or two, a sure loser, or build gradually closer PA-Israeli ties from the ground up, while strengthening the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and keeping Hamas in its Gaza cage.  Not as dramatic an agenda as a final peace deal, but perhaps somewhat more promising and achievable.