When push comes to shove

When push comes to shove

Hardly had we written the words of last week’s editorial regarding the release of 21 convicted Palestinian murderers and would-be murderers when some of our worst fears were realized.

The worst fear, of course, is that one or more of these 21 and those from the first group released in August would resume their killing. That is a high enough price to pay for the possibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority. It is too high a price to pay if Israel actually has no intention of reaching such an agreement.

Its actions last week and this suggest that even if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is eager to achieve that goal, he is unwilling to stand up to those within his governing coalition who do not want an agreement under any conditions.

Thus, as Secretary of State John Kerry prepared to visit Jerusalem, Israel announced new construction in the west bank. That was followed by an announcement from the Jerusalem municipality that it will destroy a number of Arab apartment buildings in Arab sections of east Jerusalem.

Israel is a sovereign state and gets to make its own decisions. We are not commenting on that. We are concerned, however, about the prisoner release, which puts terrorists back on the streets for no apparent good reason, as we wrote last week.

Beyond that, we also are concerned about the fallout from such Israeli prevarication and provocation. In recent months, Israel has benefited from the appearance of pursuing peace. The prisoner releases have helped. Even the boycott-Israel movement has been somewhat slowed because of it. The announced housing plans, however, send a different message that can work only to Israel’s detriment.

As Netanyahu’s retiring national security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, one of the prime minister’s closest and most trusted advisers, reportedly told the cabinet on Sunday, things will go downhill internationally very quickly if the peace talks fail and Israel is seen as being at fault.

The moment of truth is now fast approaching. The United States is about to abandon its role as facilitator. By the beginning of 2014, according to news reports, it will present both sides with its own proposal for a peace agreement. It intends the proposal to be a framework for an agreement and expects both sides to discuss the plan seriously.

As with every United States-proposed plan since November 1967, this one reportedly will include a return to the June 1967 borders, modified to take into account Israel’s security concerns, with land swaps added to take into account so-called “facts on the ground,” a euphemism for several well-established west bank settlements. Both Israel and the Palestinians will be able to call Jerusalem their capital city.

Unless Netanyahu does something – and soon – about creating a national unity government dedicated to serious negotiations, however, not only will murderers have been freed for no reason, but Amidror’s analysis will prove on the money. That is not good news for anyone.

Also not good news – not for Israel and not for American supporters of Israel – is the Netanyahu penchant for embarrassing high-level United States officials publicly and pointedly on the eve of their visits. Sooner or later, there must be a price to pay for using the visit of a vice president or a secretary of state as an opportunity to announce an action that both undermines the purpose of the visit and defies a 46-year-old U.S. policy. Netanyahu could have waited until after Kerry left the region to make the announcement; the Jerusalem municipality certainly could have done so, especially since no one seriously believes it will tear down the east Jerusalem apartment buildings. Several years ago, Netanyahu could have waited until Vice President Joe Biden came and went. Instead, such announcements are made in advance; in Biden’s case, he was already in the air, flying to Israel.

Netanyahu did something similar during a visit to Washington some years ago, when, while he was in his car en route to the White House, the Housing Ministry in Jerusalem announced new west bank construction.

It is hard to remain friends with someone who constantly embarrasses you in public.