Letter to the Editor: Obama’s Offer to Israel

Obama’s Offer to Israel

To the Editor:

Regarding the Obama administration’s offer to Israel to extend its freeze on settlement construction, you deem the incentives “overly generous” and you “can’t understand why Mr. Netanyahu hasn’t grabbed it” (“They Need to Talk,” editorial, Oct. 7).
Here is one reason: In light of commitments President Obama has already made repeatedly and publicly to Israel (an “unshakable” commitment to Israel’s security and to preserving its qualitative military edge), the items offered are not “overly generous.” Moreover, committing the United States to vetoing United Nations resolutions on Israeli-Arab issues when such resolutions are predictably vehicles for one-sided Israel bashing is something the United States has done for decades.
If Mr. Obama wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to break his word to the Israeli public and take a bold political risk for the uncertain outcome of peace talks, the president needs to be really bold in what he offers to Israel.

Nathan Diament
Director of Public Policy
Union of Orthodox Jewish
Congregations of America
Washington, Oct. 7, 2010

Further elaboration on my argument was posted on the IPA blog yesterday and is available below:


Today, the New York Times offers up its take on the ongoing efforts by the Obama Administration to keep the peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinian alive in the face of expired settlement construction freeze.

The editorial is balanced, for the NYTimes during the Netanyahu premiership.

(I’ve had letters to the NYTimes responding to their Bibi-bashing in the past.)

This editorial calls on the Israelis and the Palestinians and other Arab states to step up and act to make the talks work. It’s not all Israel’s burden – for the moment.

The NYTimes lays out the scope of the pending incentives package Obama has offered Netanyahu for extending the settlement freeze:

“In exchange for a modest 60-day extension, the administration is promising Israel increased military aid – fighter planes, missile defense, satellites – and other security guarantees. It has also promised not to ask for further extensions and to veto any United Nations Security Council resolutions on Arab-Israeli issues during the one-year negotiating period.”

The NYTimes then goes on to tell us:

“That package is, if anything, overly generous.” And ” We can’t understand why Mr. Netanyahu hasn’t grabbed it.”

It is not glib to suggest that if the editors of the NYTimes “can’t understand why” the Israeli prime minister hasn’t “grabbed it” – they don’t understand a lot and they should stop editorializing on this topic.

Why hasn’t Netanyahu agreed? Here are a few reasons that come to mind:

1. The package isn’t that generous. President Obama, not to mention Congress, is firmly committed to Israel’s security and maintaining its “qualitative military edge”. In fact, earlier this year, when the US-Israel relationship seemed to be in crisis, it was this commitment that Administration officials pointed to to underscore their friendship toward Israel. Maybe some of the specific items Obama is offering Bibi haven’t been committed to yet, but it’s reasonable to expect Israel would eventually get them anyway.

And – a promise to veto UN resolutions – that are presumably going to be horribly one-sided and anti-Israel? Again, something we ought not to but expect from a US administration.

2. Netanyahu’s Word

As many in Israel have noted – Bibi very publicly promised the freeze would be for only 10 months. IF the negotiations get going and real compromises are being made, Netanyahu is going to have to lead Israelis to support a deal and they are going to have to trust his word. He can’t undermine that.

3. Abbas’ Test

Many, especially NYTimes editorialists, wonder aloud whether Netanyahu is really interested in a peace deal. Well, many of us wonder the same about Palestinian President Abbas.
The settlements and other territory will be negotiated in the talks. Israel has already shown its willingness to sacrifice settlements for peace (see: Yamit, Gaza).

This is a test to see how committed Abbas is.

4. Netanyahu’s Coalition

Everyone notes that Netanyahu leads a “right wing” coalition and he can’t make too many concessions without risking his office. This is true – up to a point.

For the right incentives in the right context Netanyahu can bring the coalition along. These are not people blinded by ideology, they have constituents to answer to as well. They need to have the sacrifice be logical and justifiable. On that, see point 1 above.

Bottom line – if Obama wants to entice Netanyahu to extend the settlement freeze he has to offer more. If the Arabs want the freeze extended they have to actually give something too.

If the talks are worth having – the policymakers can make this happen.