Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to persuade members of his coalition government to impose a 90-day freeze on the construction of new settlements. We hope he succeeds. If there is to be long-term peace between Israelis and Arabs, some sort of agreement will have to be reached on the future borders of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. And Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has made it clear that he will not conduct negotiations under the shadow of ongoing Jewish settlement construction(1). That said, the circumstances surrounding the mooted settlement freeze are far from ideal. According to media reports, Washington would effectively bribe Mr. Netanyahu's government with the offer of US$3-billion in aid -- including 20 new fighter jets. Cynics naturally might ask whether Mr. Netanyahu will merely pocket these concessions, then go through the motions with Mr. Abbas for the next three months until the settlement construction freeze ends (2).
Mr. Abbas is far from an ideal peace partner: So far, he has refused even to concede the obvious fact that Israel should be properly regarded as a Jewish state. But unlike his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, Mr. Abbas at least is a pragmatist who seems interested in building a real national infrastructure in the West Bank.
As we've written in this space before, Israel does itself no favours if it appears reluctant in its pursuit of peace (3): Not only does such a posture make a peace deal less likely, it plays into the hands of propagandists who (falsely) label Israel, as opposed to Arab rejection of the Jewish presence in the Middle East, as the source of the region's tensions.
Even putting aside the issues of peace and propaganda, the optics of this week's possible quid pro quo represent an indignity for a nation that has become a regional economic, technological and military superpower. Israel's per-capita GDP is on a par with many other OECD nations. It doesn't need bribes from the Americans or anyone else to do what is right.
(1) From 1993, with the signing of the Oslo agreement, until 2008, when negotiations between Mahmoud Abbas and the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni, the Palestinians never once demanded a freeze on Jewish construction anywhere. It was only when President Barack Obama inextricably linked negotiations to settlement freezes that Mr. Abbas was forced to take this stance. After all, he could not appear to less pro-Palestinian than Obama.
(3) In November 2009, Netanyahu offered an unprecedented (see note 1 above) settlement freeze of 10 months. For eight of those months, nothing happened. The Palestinians refused to come to the table, and only reluctantly entered negotiations in August 2010. The first meeting was held in September, 2010. However, the National Post here cautions Israel about appearing "reluctant in its pursuit of peace"?