Netanyahu Today: First Hell Freezes, Then the Settlements

In an interview in Sunday's Washington Post, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may go further than any of his predecessors in rejecting a settlement freeze -- this after President Obama went further than any of his predecessors in demanding one.

In the fifteen years since Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasir Arafat signed the Oslo agreement, Israel has never, in principle, ruled out a settlement freeze. On occasion, it has, in fact, implemented a freeze while on several others, Israeli prime ministers said "yes" but with conditions.

There has been one constant. Israeli prime ministers tended to go along with the US and Palestinian view that freezing settlements was not a final status issue (i.e, one that would only be resolved in the context of comprehensive negotiations) but a precondition for negotiations like the PLO's cessation of violence, which has been in effect for years.

Israeli prime ministers understood that Palestinians viewed the expansion of settlements as something unacceptable during negotiations. As one Palestinian put it, "You can't discuss how you will divide the pizza while one guy is gobbling it up."

This all changed today with the interview in Sunday's Washington Post.

WP: What do you think should happen with the Palestinians?

Netanyahu: We just wasted six months because of the Palestinian effort to place preconditions on the negotiations -- preconditions that weren't there for the last 16 years.

WP: Is that freezing the settlements?

Netanyahu: It's freezing the settlements, it's committing in advance to the negotiations.

WP: It's committing to the outcome basically?

Netanyahu: Yes, it's the old technique. Let's agree what the results of the negotiations will be before the negotiations begin.

And then Netanyahu flatout misrepresents the Obama administration's position by saying it agrees with him.

Netanyahu: I think the Palestinians have to recognize that Washington says there should be no negotiations without preconditions.

Of course, President Obama said the opposite and so did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (In Clinton's words, President Obama wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.") They have both demanded a settlement freeze as a means of getting negotiations started, i.e., as a precondition.

And as far as pretending that a settlement freeze is a "final status" issue and always was, Netanyahu is rejecting the positions of every one of his predecessors since 1993. They all accepted the idea that a freeze was a preliminary step. Bibi has broken new ground (maybe to build a settlement on it).

To put it bluntly, President Obama is being royally dissed.

But all is not lost. The President should say: "Okay, Bibi, we agree. A settlement freeze is a final status issue. I want you and Abbas to come to Camp David now to begin and finish negotiations on the final status of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. We will, as you prefer, discuss the settlement freeze in the context of setting final borders for Israel and the Palestinian state."

One thing is certain. The President cannot accept this type of rebuff lying down. Congressman Joe Wilson only yelled out "liar." Netanyahu's response to Obama is worse. It reminds me of that old New York Daily News headline after President Ford rejected an aid package for a bankrupt New York City, "Ford to City: Drop Dead."

This is not how an ally -- especially one who receives more aid, by far, than any other country in the world -- should be permitted to address an American President.