There are glimmers of hope out there, suddenly… Am I the only reader of Middle East news reports who feels that way? A few hours ago, both Y-net news and Haaretz.com ran stories about the possibility of a settlement freeze. Both tell us that Olmert informed the heads of the YESHA Council (i.e., the settler leaders) that painful sacrifices are necessary. This will probably hit the American media soon, but I might as well spread the word now…
The happy Haaretz report says that Israel will announce “a freeze on settlement construction prior to the Annapolis conference, and will also declare its willingness to dismantle illegal West Bank settlement outposts, government sources said Tuesday. Last night, a group of senior Israeli officials flew to Washington to discuss the components of this freeze with Bush Administration officials. They will also brief the Americans on Israel’s security interests in the talks with the Palestinians.
“In recent weeks, the United States has been demanding that Israel make significant gestures on settlements and outposts prior to the conference, to compensate for its refusal to discuss the “core issues” of a final-status agreement until after the conference ends. These gestures are meant to make it clear that Israel does not intend to remain in the territories, and understands that its presence there is only temporary.”
The Y-Net piece, Olmert ends ‘difficult’ meeting with Yesha leaders, includes the following sub head:
“YESHA Council’s first meeting with PM since he took office ends stridently, as Olmert announces some concessions are inevitable. ‘We definitely have something to worry about,’ says YESHA chief.”
Later, we read that, according to YESHA head Danny Dayan, “Olmert…did not speak directly about evacuating more settlements in the West Bank, but his intentions were clear. We realize the government wants to freeze all settlement projects in the West Bank.”
There is a chance that this is just make-believe, of course, in order to placate the Americans and to give the Gulf States incentives to show up in Maryland. Perhaps Olmert has no intention of actually doing anything about the expansionist madness. His predecessors didn’t have the political stomach to do what needed to be done. But this guy has virtually nothing to lose, politically. He has everything to gain by shattering some precedents.
Times have been so bleak, of late, that even if an Israeli Prime Minister’s confrontation with West Bank settlers is an empty political gesture to grab some headlines, it is better than no gesture at all. At least he is telling these people the truth.