With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expected in the US to meet with President Obama on Tuesday, reports suggest that he is planning to offer Obama a “trade” that would have the settlement freeze in parts of the West Bank, such as it is, extended for some period into the future.
Under the trade, President Obama would publicly agree that the large settlement blocs in the West Bank were eternally under the control of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu would announce that while construction would continue inside those blocs, as well as inside occupied East Jerusalem, he would be halting construction outside the blocs for the forseeable future.
Though the settlement freeze has meant ultimately very little in terms of construction, it has been hugely controversial in Israel, and efforts in the parliament are underway to “veto” future settlement freezes, over objections from the cabinet.
Likewise the lifting of the settlement freeze, something the Netanyahu government has been looking increasingly likely to do, could do serious damage to the US-brokered indirect peace talks, which are already on the brink of collapse after a number of other settlement expansions and public evictions of Arabs from East Jerusalem.
But while the trade appears to benefit Netanyahu tremendously, giving him political cover for selling something of a freeze, it is unclear what it would accomplish from the US perspective, as the US acceptance of Israeli dominance over the settlement blocs would likely do more harm for the peace effort than the nominal freeze outside the blocs would help.
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