Tony Karon writes:
In the grand poker game of Middle East peacemaking, everyone around the table is wondering just what cards President Barack Obama is holding. That’s because the President has placed a potentially ruinous bet on what can be achieved over the 90 days of the partial settlement freeze he appears to have persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept — in exchange for an extra $3 billion worth of advanced F-35 fighter aircraft. That is over and above the annual $2.75 billion military subsidy Israel receives from Washington. In addition, the Obama Administration has promised to run interference for Israel against any attempt to bring international law into play to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via the U.N. But Obama is gambling with a lot more than $3 billion that the two sides can agree on borders between Israel and a Palestinian state within three months.
Netanyahu still has to convince his entire Cabinet to embrace the deal, and he’ll get some pushback from within his own party and among settlers furious about a new building slowdown (although the Israeli group Peace Now, which strongly opposes settlements, noted last week that over the six weeks since the last moratorium expired, settlers have started to work on pretty much the same number of housing units as they would have built over the 10 months it covered). The Palestinians, for their part, insist that they won’t return to negotiations until Israel completely halts building on occupied land, including in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu, however, is adamant that his construction freeze won’t apply to settlements in East Jerusalem, which he doesn’t deem to be settlements — although the international community does, having never recognized Israel’s annexation of those parts of the Holy City captured in the 1967 war.
But even if the deal manages to get talks restarted, the real gamble Obama has taken is giving the two sides just 90 days to agree on where to draw the final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state.