Akiva Eldar writes:
The decision to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb to the list of historical heritage sites up for renovation was not made with the intention of inflaming tempers and sabotaging efforts to revive final-status talks with the Palestinians. It was merely a routine move by a rightist government, further proof that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “two states” speech at Bar-Ilan University was a milestone on the road to nowhere. The only difference between “the rock of our existence” that launched the Western Wall tunnel violence in 1996 and the 2010 model is that this time Netanyahu is wearing a mask, trying to pass himself off as peace activist Uri Avnery, with the generous help of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The prime minister, as we all know, simply can’t wait for renewed final-status talks to get underway, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to back down and is setting “conditions that predetermine the outcome of the negotiations,” as Netanyahu told Haaretz a week ago. Indeed, the Palestinians have made their participation in indirect talks conditional on, in part, a construction freeze during the talks in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem. They have the audacity to claim that it is Netanyahu’s demand to expand settlements during negotiations along with the assertion of Jewish ownership over sensitive sites which are the conditions that predetermine the outcome of the talks.
The Palestinian demand for a total freeze on settlement construction, including that required for natural population growth, is not, in Netanyahu’s words “a condition that no country would accept.” Israel accepted that condition in the road map seven years ago. In an article in the journal of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in December 2009, Prof. Ruth Lapidoth, recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize for Legal Studies, and Dr. Ofra Friesel wrote that the Netanyahu government is obligated by the road map, which was ratified by the Sharon government. A former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, Lapidoth stresses that the 14 remarks (not reservations, as they are usually termed) that Israel appended have no legal validity. And since the U.S. government promised no more than to relate “fully and seriously” to these remarks, they don’t have any diplomatic validity, either.