Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bibi's Thanksgiving Treat

At 7:30pm local time, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced an 11-1 vote by his cabinet to freeze settlement activity in the West Bank. The freeze will not include Jerusalem, and will expire in 10 months.

The freeze, while incomplete, is a significant signal from the Netanyahu administration that it is ready to align itself closer to U.S. policy. While Netanyahu has successfully waited out the clock on Obama, the U.S. would do well to tout this as a victory and begin to apply pressure on the Palestinians. Glossing over Salam Fayed's preemptive comments that the freeze wasn't good enough, the U.S. should now begin exerting pressure on the Palestinian leadership. Netanyahu has thrown the Obama administration a bone by giving them a chance to move forward from a policy support for a freeze which has had limited success. This time, Obama should know to bid higher and apply more active pressure on the Palestinian leadership.

Specifically, he should focus on the content of Palestinian textbooks. Omissions of the Holocaust and gross mis-characterizations of the Jews are far more counterproductive to peace than settlements, and changing their content could be done using international funds and without compromising the Palestinian identity. Yet, creating a more historically accurate Palestinian curriculum would be a significant win for Israel on an issue on which the Palestinians are clearly in the wrong.

Yet, the U.S. must be careful not to let a Palestinian PM candidate use U.S. demands in the same way Netanyahu did, building a constituency at the expense of U.S. interests. Abbas will try to leverage his decision to not run for PM against any U.S. demands, and the American administration must be careful about letting things stall as they did this time. The next round of pressure will be a test of whether or not the Obama administration has learned from its mistakes.

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