Regular readers don't need me to elaborate much about the decision to build 455 new homes in six settlements just before starting a construction freeze. The whole thing is a sham. Obama started with a reasonable postition that enlarging settlements while negotiating their dismantling is not helpful. So he demanded that not happen. Netanyahu's government could have accepted his position, though one hopes they'd have demanded a reciprocal requirement from the Palestinians - a demand they not teach children Israel shouldn't exist, or some such. The Obama team, however, perhaps in their haste to distance themselves from the Bush administration, demanded the cessation of construction also in places Israel isn't going to dismantle, thereby encouraging the Palestinians to halt the negotiations they themselves had been intensively engaged in. Netanyahu won't, and indeed shouldn't, buckle on this one, so it seems there is now a fudge. There were plans for constuction of 455 homes in the pipeline; these have now been authorised. There aren't any additional plans at the moment, so tomorrow or next week Netanyahu will declare a freeze. Should the negotiations go well, everyone will agree that Modi'in Illit and Har Gilo remain in Israel, and construction will continue when new plans make their way thru the zoning process. If not, there won't be much reason to halt construction, will there. So it's a sham.
And also a shame. We've got this exciting new American administration, or anyway, we had for a moment. Peace in the Middle East is probably beyond the ability of any American administration to deliver, as is peace in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Congo, Sudan, Nigeria, the Caucasus, and diverse other places; still, it would have been nice to have a real stab at it, and not the silly gesture-politics we've been having the past few months.
In late summer 2008 I wrote here that Obama's first 18-24 months would be disastrous, but that then he and his team might understand the dynamics of the job and pull their act together. It's still early enough for them to prove me pessimistic. But it doesn't look so yet.