Barack Obama's latest offer to Israel in his quixotic quest for a total construction freeze in West Bank settlements seems at first glance to be a sweetheart deal for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. In exchange for a 90-day extension of the freeze, Israel reportedly would receive 20 additional F-35 fighter jets worth $3 billion, a guarantee that the United States will veto any unilateral Palestinian initiative at the United Nations meant to achieve international recognition of a Palestinian state, and a promise that Obama will not request any further extensions of the construction moratorium.
This proposed deal, however, masks an unwelcome shift in U.S. mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the troubling precedents set by this package will serve to dim rather than enhance prospects for a breakthrough in peace negotiations.
The most worrying aspect of Obama's package is the linkages it establishes between Israeli concessions on settlements (and apparently on the pace of construction in Jerusalem as well) and other unrelated policy matters. Washington has long opposed, and frequently vetoed, U.N. Security Council initiatives targeting Israel. The United States has done so not out of a sense of charity, but because the anti-Israel resolutions were unconstructive, unhelpful, and unprincipled. The suggestion that unless there is a construction freeze America will no longer do so will make it far harder for U.S. negotiators to defeat or soften drafts put forward in the council in future years, and encourage further assaults on Israel there. Leaving Israel undefended in the United Nations will make successful negotiations less, not more, likely, for an Israel that is under constant attack will batten down the hatches not "take risks for peace."