An Israeli daily Haaretz report cites a Jerusalem political source who states that 3 Netanyahu government ministers, Lieberman, Begin and Ya'alon have countered defense minister Ehud Barak's possible offer of a "a temporary freeze" of construction in Yehuda and the Shomron arguing that a temporary construction freeze would set a precedent which could become permanent. But the real problem is that by negotiating how much Israel is to be allowed to build, Israel has already accepted the nonsensical idea that outside forces can determine where Jews can and can not build in the Jewish heartland:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak will meet in New York today with U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell in an effort to agree on a compromise formula on settlement construction. The meeting takes place in light of a recent disagreement among the "forum of six" ministers over this issue.
A political source in Jerusalem said Monday that a "temporary freeze" of construction in the settlements was met with objections by three of the six senior ministers in the forum.
Monday morning the forum, which includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and ministers Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Moshe Ya'alon, met to agree on a position that Barak would then present to Mitchell.
Barak supported a formula according to which Israel would freeze settlement construction completely, except for projects that have already started, and would require U.S. guarantees on the future of the peace process.
A political source in Jerusalem said that Barak's position was countered by Lieberman, Begin and Ya'alon, who opposed his proposal. The three argued that "a temporary freeze" of settlement construction will create a precedent and may become permanent. "If we start it will be difficult to go back," the three said.
It is unclear what the positions of Netanyahu and Meridor were.
According to the three ministers opposing Barak, Israel must not propose a "temporary freeze" without a commitment for similar and equal concessions by Arab states and the Palestinian Authority, and as part of a broader package deal...
...Israel should offer to temporarily freeze construction if this helped peace talks get underway. He said willingness to do so would alter Israel's "refusing" reputation.
Israel might try instead to enhance its refusing reputation by firmly saying no to this kind of thing. One firm "no" might actually save the need to say "no" later on subsequent demands, as any good negotiator knows. Is it superfluous to add that the Palestinians have refused to budge an inch in their core demands ever since 1993? This intrangience has been amply rewarded, as Israel has been made to split the difference each time, until finally offering close to 100% of the territories in negotiations.
The Haaretz report continues:
"We must explain to the Americans that we, too, have red lines," Deputy Prime Minister Ya'alon said during the meeting.
A novel idea indeed. But first Israel must develop some red lines that it is really not willing to cross.
During the meeting with Mitchell, Barak intends to present a more watered-down proposal, which will include a declared wish to resolve the settlements issue during negotiations with the Palestinian Authority over a final settlement agreement. Moreover, the proposal will be to limit new construction to the addition of stories to existing structures in the settlements, except for projects that have already begun.
As George Bernard Shaw would say, by haggling over the price Israel has already given in on the principle.
The real problem is that Israel, as a nation, has yet to decide for itself what the real future of the territories will be. As a symptom, the pace of building in the settlements is always open to internal debate, and that leads to external forces joining in on that debate. While it is certainly true that outsiders should butt out of Israel's internal affairs, it is incumbent upon Israel to make a decision, the right decision, on this matter once and for all.