A recent report from CNN News indicated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood up for his new initiative to halt settlement activities in the West Bank this week by meeting with 25 municipal leaders from those settlements in Tel Aviv (http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/12/03/israel.settlements/index.html). The meeting was intended to field the complaints and grievances of settlers due to the new plan. The settler leaders hinted that despite their government’s enforcement of the new initiative, they would be unwilling to slow or even stop any development in the West Bank for the during of the 10-month building freeze. Settlement developers have even been accused of refusing to cooperate with Israeli government inspectors who come to their sites to make sure activities are ceased. All of this has come amidst the claims by the Palestinian Authority that the building-freeze is not expansive enough to reignite negotiations between themselves and the Israelis, given that it both does not include east Jerusalem and is temporary.
While one has to give Netanyahu credit from trying such a bold program given his right-winged affiliation, it appears as though this project has nowhere to go but failure. Settlers seem determined to continue and do not appear to take seriously the Israeli government’s resolve to see their plan come to fruition. Combined with the feelings of the PA that the effort overall will ultimately prove ineffective, I have a hard time seeing what will be gained from this situation for either Palestinians or Israelis.
Now many of you may be thinking that any effort to get talks going again is at least something, given that negotiations between Zionists and Palestinians has proven to be the ultimately stalemate of the last sixty years. Generally speaking, Israel, the PA or Hamas’ attempts to get things moving can never stem from a temporary fix if they are actually interested in developing a lasting solution to the crisis. And, unfortunately, that is all this latest chapter really is, and its failings are already readily apparent. The problem with only going halfway on a concession, as Netanyahu is by offering a temporary building-freeze is that not only do you upset the Palestinians with a superficial offering, but you upset your own people by limiting their abilities too. Obviously, by its very definition someone would be upset if a compromise is ever reached, but (and this goes for all parties involved) you can’t ride the proverbial fence. You need to commit fully, one way or the other. Now Netanyahu faces public opposition from the PA and will have settlers and their supporters picketing outside of his residence until the freeze is lifted. So I ask once more, what was gained from this? If the parties want to develop real solutions, than they need to offer real initiatives, not just what this project appears to be: a half-hearted political side-step.