How long is 90 days really? Two and a half months have passed since late August, when the White House restarted negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for the third time. Three months had passed before then, when indirect talks broke down in May after an ill-timed settlement announcement. Before that a year passed with relatively little motion.
And while US officials claim the two sides are closer than ever to a breakthrough, they issued the same statements back in September, confident of reaching an agreement before Israel’s partial settlement freeze expired that month. This from an administration that expected an agreement within a year. Three months isn’t so long when warped by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However it is three months more than zero, time and space the White House desperately needs. The question is whether the Palestinians are so desperate as to accept a maniacal offer against them.
With Benjamin Netanyahu ruling in President Barack Obama’s place as he toured Asia, the Israeli Prime Minister just confirmed his dominance with his loot. The Palestinians have no control over what’s currently happening, a key root of discord. Negotiations take place between a select group of US and Israeli officials, excluding the Palestinians and ultimately forcing disputed terms on them.
This cycle has facilitated the Israeli position.
Now, after a seven-hour marathon with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Netanyahu has unveiled his heist to his cabinet: a 90 day settlement freeze - not including East Jerusalem, an overt claim to the whole city - with the additional promise that this freeze is the last regardless of whether negotiations produce an agreement on final-status borders.
Given that US time-tables have repeatedly underestimated the peace process, the odds of reaching an agreement within three months appear low.
Furthermore, Netanyahu received new guarantees that Washington will block any international resolutions “critical of Israel” or addressing Palestinian statehood. As if this wasn't enough, the Obama administration will ask a friendly Congress to supply Israel with 20 stealth fighters. Washington has once more rewarded Israel for bad behavior - the relationship is so tilted that it’s surprising Israel didn’t receive more.
What just happened is blatantly obvious. With Obama gone Netanyahu raided the White House, joining with Israeli hands like Clinton, Dennis Ross, James Steinberg, various Senators, and lesser known figures to assail the Palestinians’ position. Netanyahu likely arranged his trip the moment he was informed of Obama’s departure time to Mumbai, and arrived in New Orleans two days later for a week-long blitzkrieg.
Yet with the Palestinians already consulting a skeptical Arab League and gathering international allies, an unequal outcome leads straight to another stalemate.
It seems that Obama, having grown fearful of publicly caving to Netanyahu, skipped town while his subordinates finished his dirty work, insincerely addressing US-Muslim relations in Indonesia while ignoring liberation movements in Palestine and Kashmir. If Obama didn’t sign off on the White House's offer, where is he now? He’ll need more than a speech to salvage what’s left of his trust with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu's arrogance poses a greater obstacle to the peace process than Israeli settlement activity. They need to see Obama stand up to him instead of being manipulated.