Beyond the brink of a diplomatic fiasco

After coming away from a dinner hosted by American Jewish leaders for Mahmoud Abbas, Roger Cohen comes away “convinced the United States is on the brink of a diplomatic fiasco.”

Less than a month after President Obama put the imprimatur of a White House ceremony on renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks, the negotiations are close to breakdown. If that happens, as Netanyahu and Abbas know, Obama would look amateurish.

The two leaders need the United States, an incentive to avoid humiliating Obama. But with just a couple of days to the expiration Sunday of an Israeli freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank, both sides are digging in. Despite Obama’s public plea to Netanyahu — “It makes sense to extend that moratorium” — the Israeli government seems to have rejected a formal extension.

That would be a terrible mistake. Obama should fight it until the last minute. His international credibility is on the line.

Cohen regards Netanyahu’s decision on whether he will call for a three-month extension of the settlement “freeze,” “a test case of Israeli seriousness about peace.”


This is how serious the settlement freeze has been so far.

In the third quarter of 2009, before the restrictions were imposed last November, there were 2,790 settlement homes in various stages of construction, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. The number rose to 2,955 in the last quarter of 2009, reflecting a last-minute surge of housing starts in the days leading up to the freeze.

In the first quarter of 2010, with the freeze in full effect, the number stood at 2,517.

That means that even months into the halt, the number of homes under construction had declined by only about 10 percent.

So, the continuation of a modest slow down in settlement expansion for three months will prove Netanyahu’s serious about peace?

Who knew peace could come be promised that easily?

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