This blog has closely observed prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public reactions to the tirades of US president Obama and secretary of state Clinton in the aftermath of licensure for building in Ramat Shlomo. Among Netanyahu’s public statements have been declarations that construction in Jerusalem will continue and that Jerusalem will remain undivided .
But inside Israel, and inside the prime minister’s own party, people have been questioning whether Netanyahu can be taken at his word, particularly in light of the Likud central committee vote coming on Thursday regarding whether or not the Likud constitution will be changed as to scheduling when central committee elections will be held. The make-up of the Likud central committee appears to have a profound impact on the prime minister’s diplomatic policy decisions.
Now, according to an AP report cited in Jerusalem Post, as well as Maariv columnist Ben Caspit’s report — original Hebrew report here, there is a secret US-Israeli agreement on East Jerusalem building:
Israel and the US have reached secret agreements about construction in Jerusalem. Both sides agreed to leave the agreements between themselves and not make them public, and if they should be leaked nevertheless, deny them vigorously. The purpose is in order not to create difficulties for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the coalition, and particularly in the Likud party.
The agreements indicate that contrary to Israeli boasting, Netanyahu’s answer to Obama regarding Jerusalem was not “No.” It was something in the middle, a little closer to the far end (a freeze) than the close one (continued construction at full tilt). The most accurate translation for this agreement is “Yes, but.” It is possible that Netanyahu has learned something from the bad old days of Shimon Peres, during which he got the nickname “Yes and no.” Now it is Netanyahu’s turn.
As far as anyone knows, the parties agreed that no construction freeze would be announced. On the contrary, Netanyahu may continue to announce that he did not agree to a freeze. But in reality, Netanyahu agreed to delay the Ramat Shlomo project by at least several years and not to issue any new construction tenders in Jerusalem.
“Netanyahu may continue to announce that he did not agree to a freeze. But in reality, Netanyahu agreed to delay the Ramat Shlomo project by at least several years and not to issue any new construction tenders in Jerusalem.”
He also promised “to do as much as the law allows and use his full authority as prime minister to prevent unnecessary Israeli activity in the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. These agreements do not include the procedures that are already being carried out, such as, for example, the Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem.
Another agreement between the parties is that if Netanyahu should encounter a particularly severe crisis or heavy pressure, or if these agreements should be leaked, there will be a tendency to let him approve a small number of symbolic construction projects in secret coordination with the Americans so that it will continue to look as though he did not give in.
In the end, the agreement is a good and effective one. The Americans are moving forward with it, and the members of the forum of seven are willing to accept it as well. It is saying no and acting yes. In the current situation, if there are no last-minute surprises, there will soon be an announcement of the resumption of the proximity talks between the parties. The Palestinians will go with it, and the Americans will finally be able to finish the job and check off the first item on their to-do list.
They made a big strategic mistake in their insistence on a construction freeze in Jerusalem from the first moment. They paid dearly for it. Now they will try to make up for it, but they will find fairly quickly that the worst of all is still ahead.
The above-cited AP report in The Jerusalem Post notes that Jerusalem municipal officials indicate that “the government has imposed a de facto freeze on new Jewish construction” in East Jerusalem:
An Israeli government official claimed a weeks-long delay in reviewing plans for new construction was a bureaucratic issue and not evidence of a freeze. But the fact that new plans are not going ahead dovetails with signs that the Palestinians might ease their demand that the contentious construction stop before they resume peace talks.
Jerusalem Councilman Meir Margalit of the dovish Meretz Party said top Jerusalem officials intimately involved with construction projects told him Netanyahu’s office ordered a freeze after Israel infuriated Washington last month by announcing a major new east Jerusalem housing development during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden.
“The government ordered the Interior Ministry immediately after the Biden incident to not even talk about new construction for Jewish homes in east Jerusalem,” Margalit said. “It’s not just that building has stopped: The committees that deal with this are not even meeting anymore.”
Another councilman, Meir Turujamen, who sits on the Interior Ministry committee that approves building plans, said his panel has not met since the Biden visit, after previously meeting once weekly.
An engineer who oversees residential construction in a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem said requests for proposals to build hundreds of apartments haven’t gone out. “I think it’s related to the political situation,” he said, adding that he knew of no official order to block construction. The engineer spoke on condition of anonymity because he does business with the city and speaking… might risk putting that in jeopardy.
Efrat Orbach, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry, said this mechanism explained why planning committee meetings were being delayed, because now multiple ministries had to be involved in the coordination.
“There is no freeze, there is bureaucracy,” Orbach said.
The Shas party has a history of equivocation regarding the division of Jerusalem as was repeatedly shown during Olmert/Livni talks with P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the Interior ministry spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of Shas Interior Minister Eli Yishai would cover things laying blame for inactivity on “bureaucracy.”
Shas has threatened and backed-off, threatened and backed-off sooo many times regarding “negotiantions” with Abbas regarding Jerusalem that none of their statements is worth the tissue paper they are written on.
As for Bibi, and Likud’s central committee vote on Thursday, he’s been caught with his proverbial “pants down” by overwhelming proof of a deal with the US. It’s not just Maariv’s Caspit calling this agreement a done-deal, but 3 other major Israeli news sites, as well as AP and Yahoo have all checked in with similar reports. Just watch the sweat-beads build on his upper lip as the crucial vote draws ever nearer and he scrambles hither and fro attempting to strong-arm Likud central committee members to vote his way on amending the Likud constitution. (MB)
There are two other pertinent reports, besides those of Maariv and The Jerusalem Post, regarding Bibi’s secret agreement with the US:
De Facto Freeze on New Homes in United Jerusalem, by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu (Israel National News)