Friday, May 22, 2009

Thank God it's Friday

The week that was

An FBI sting operation led to Wednesday's arrest of four Muslims in New York City charged with plotting to blow up the (Orthodox) Riverdale Jewish Center and the (Reform) Riverdale Temple in the Bronx. Lev Dassin, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the men had "selected targets and sought the weapons necessary to carry out their plans."

Besides the uncovering of the Riverdale plot, this week brought some other good tidings for which we are grateful: The Obama administration decided to fund the entire Arrow-3 anti-missile program now in development; US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Al Jazeera that there would be no European-like flirtation with Hamas by Washington, saying: "Hamas has to comply with not only the Quartet principles but the underlying principles of the Arab Peace Initiative." Finally, the president made it clear that his efforts to dissuade Iran from building nuclear weapons would not carry on beyond the year; and that - as he told Newsweek - all options were on the table.

YET there's no papering over the differences that emerged this week in the wake of Binyamin Netanyahu's meeting with Barack Obama.

The president supposes Israeli concessions on the Palestinian track can help stop the Iranian bomb. The reality: With the mullahs' power ascendant, Hamas and radical Fatah factions have no reason to moderate their line. Obama wants a complete settlement freeze, West Bank checkpoints lifted, outposts removed, and the criteria regarding what passes into Gaza loosened.

Yesterday's dismantling of Maoz Esther, near Kochav Hashahar -- a non-authorized outpost reportedly built on private land -- belatedly begins to addresses the outpost issue. And Netanyahu is committed to not creating new settlements. But mainstream Israel will not tolerate a "settlement freeze" in metropolitan Jerusalem.

Personally speaking, I don't want to see a freeze in the settlement blocs either. In fact, so long as the state invites people to live over the Green Line, I don't know how we can expect them -- no matter which community they live in -- to freeze their lives. What if there is a need to expand an apartment or home because of a new baby?

The elimination of more checkpoints - a life-and-death decision - needs cautious handling, as does the question of what passes into Gaza.

It was no secret that the administration was working on a peace plan. But it is unsettling that more of it was leaked to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi than, apparently, was revealed to Netanyahu.

And yet the details, if accurate, break little new ground. Obama reportedly wants a Palestinian state alongside Israel and stresses it must be demilitarized - something George W. Bush failed to emphasize. He tells the Palestinians to abandon demands for the "right of return." The fate of Jerusalem, he says, must be decided by the parties (though the holy basin should be placed under UN stewardship). He reportedly calls for land swaps to compensate the Palestinians for settlement blocs, thus implicitly embracing the "1967-plus" letter Bush gave Ariel Sharon in 2004. He's also pressing moderate Arabs to push the Palestinians to be more compromising.

In that Al Jazeera interview, Clinton was asked whether the settlement freeze meant Obama wanted to roll Israel back to the 1949 Armistice lines. Her answer: "First, we want to see a stop to settlement construction, additions, natural growth - any kind of settlement activity. That is what the president has called for. We also are going to be pushing for a two-state solution which, by its very name, implies borders that have to be agreed to…"

We read that as a "no."

It is unlikely in the extreme that the PLO will accept Obama's blueprint, despite the moderate-sounding tone lately adopted by Nabil Abu Rudaineh, Mahmoud Abbas's spokesman. Fatah is horribly fragmented: The old guard doesn't want to loosen its grip on power. Its pragmatists and hard-liners are arguing over how to negotiate with Israel. And the younger generation wants to officially reverse Fatah's commitment to end terror if Israel doesn't capitulate to its demands.

Meanwhile Hamas, ever more popular, bides its time, waiting for the West to reconstruct Gaza for it.

RATHER than get into a huff over Obama's demands, which are basically in harmony with the policies of his predecessors, Israel needs to ensure that it does not allow itself to be depicted as the obstacle to peace.

The good news is that Netanyahu is making a beginning at stressing what we are for - letting the Palestinians rule themselves. And by trying to get the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state, he is correctly addressing the root cause of the conflict.

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