Last week, Bibi Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with George Mitchell in Paris. Shimon Shiffer of Yediot Achronot reported that Mitchell cancelled and told the Israelis to come back when they had something real to put on the table. The result was Ehud Barak’s half-baked settlement freeze “compromise,” which had the legs cut out from under it by half the members of the senior ministerial committee that considered it, before Barak even presented it to the Americans. Such is the fragmented, dysfunctional nature of the current Israeli government.
Anyway, Israel’s Mr. Smith went to Washington and met with Mitchell today and the result was…bupkis–nothing. But what’s really interesting is to see how two Israeli reporters report the same event. Let’s start with the more credible version from Maariv’s Meirav David (in Hebrew):
According to Barak, the meeting was positive. But by its conclusion there was no resolution of the disagreement between Israel and the U.S. Barak tried to persuade Mitchell to open a more comprehensive regional peace process [rather than dealing with settlements].
Those in Barak’s party agreed that in the longer-term it will be necessary for Israel to agree to a formulation which will stop settlement construction. But in the course of the meeting neither Mitchell nor Barak succeeded in finding a satisfactory formulation.
Now note how Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reports the same meeting:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. special Mideast envoy George Mitchell agreed during their talks in New York this week that Israel must take action toward easing access for Palestinians in the West Bank and halting settlement activity.
Their four-hour discussion brought Israel and the United States closer to ending its dispute over settlement construction, a source close to Barak said.
Mitchell did not explicitly tell Barak that Israel must impose a complete freeze on settlements – as the U.S. has been demanding – but rather emphasized that Jerusalem must take “action” on the matter, according to a Defense Ministry statement following the talks.
Asked whether Israel would declare a temporary settlement building freeze, Barak told reporters following the meeting: “I think that it’s a little bit too early to predict.
…While significant progress was made in the talks, said the source close to Barak, differences remain over a number of subjects.
“There is still disagreement, but the direction is positive and there is a good dialogue,” a source close to the defense minister said.
First, Ravid has told you that Barak’s “freeze-lite” proposal either wasn’t even floated at the meeting or wasn’t taken seriously when it was. Second, Ravid has spun the meeting with some positive flim-flam that has absolutely no basis in fact. You read his article and find me one concrete factual development that accords with the positive spin he’s given to the story. Then, keep in mind that the Maariv reporter more accurately noted there essentially was no agreement on anything of substance. The only thing they agreed on was that Mitchell would be back in the Middle East in two weeks. Big deal.
Third, the notion that Mitchell didn’t tell Barak that Israel had to impose a total settlement freeze is preposterous on its face. After all, this IS declared U.S. government policy. To believe that Mitchell would not have reiterated the stated policy of his own government is to say that Mitchell is an incompetent envoy. And believe me, Mitchell is NOT incompetent.
So as far as Ravid’s report is concerned, it’s simply not credible. Among close observers of the Israeli media Ravid is a reporter known for having extremely cozy relationships with his establishment govenrment sources. In such an environment, reporters and sources scratch each others’ backs and the former tailor reporting to make their sources look as good as possible. It appears that Meirav David doesn’t feel the need to do this, bless him.
H/t Sol Salbe. Comment is Free today published my take on the meeting, Settlement Freeze Fraud, which was written yesterday before it had taken place. As usual the comment thread with a few exceptions has been monopolized by pro-Israel rightists and a bit of reason and light from those with a different perspective would be helpful.
Here we are going on six months of Obama’s Administration. Talks are continuing. Maybe they will go on for the next 3.5 years, with “both sides hoping to reach an agreement”. Will Obama put a freeze on the rest of the “peace process” pending a resolution of the settlement matter? What punitive sancitions is he considering using if Israel doesn’t knuckle under? I see the US government authorized loan guarantees for Israel yesterday, so they aren’t using that, as did Bush I in 1991 and 1992.
All I know is that if Netanyahu agrees even to a “temporary freeze”, there will be a firestorm of opposition on the Right in Israel. A “temporary” freeze wouldn’t bring Netanyahu any credit, whatever ongoing construction would be happening would automatically be considered being in “bad faith” even if it is excluded, and also there is the question of who decides whether the Arab side has been forthcoming enough to enable the freeze to continue.
Obama has painted himself into a corner by making his demand for a freeze unilateral, without tying it to some significant concession from the Arab side. This just shows he is a rank amateur at diplomacy.
Meanwhile we’ll see what happens in Iraq based on his withdrawal of US forces from the cities. Setting arbitrary deadlines in a war for withdrawals merely hands the initiative to the enemy. This is why McCain opposed setting deadlines. IMHO, Obama is sitting on a volcano on many fronts.
bk – The image I see is not one of Obama “painted” into a corner; it is of a President facing demands from the people who comprise his constituency. The opposition to Israel’s behavior is a continuing storm in the US – of protest, not fire, except perhaps in a spiritual sense.
Your perspective regarding Iran is not one I share. Iran needs to take care of its own; President Obama needs to take care of his own. We need to take care of our own. You need to take care of your own.
You err, I would suggest, in considering Obama isolated atop a volcano. We all are sitting there with him.