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Ma'ariv: "A Moratorium Game" by Ben-Dror Yemini

There is something odd about the argument over an "additional freeze" and the price that Israel is supposed to pay for it. It is odd because a complete cessation of the settlement enterprise is an Israeli interest. Unless, that is, we insist on striding towards the vision of Moshe Arens, Ruby Rivlin, Ilan Pappe, Tzippi Hotovely, the activists in the Zochrot non-profit organization and many others, from Left and Right, who act in word and deed, with opposed interests, to promote the achievement of their vision of one large state.

And yet, despite the fact that this is clearly an Israeli interest, a gift to ourselves, we are supposed to receive something in return. One might even think that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is a strategic genius. After all, this is an astonishing political achievement. A double gain. Which means that something here is fishy. How can it be that the United States is offering us something worth billions of dollars, in addition to political security, for just three months of a construction moratorium?

Before we go any further, we need to make a few clarifications. We already had ten months of a construction moratorium. In retrospect, the bulldozers were given a brief rest. But no moratorium was declared in other aspects [of the settlement enterprise]. For example, no moratorium was declared in the planning and submission of construction projects. As soon as the moratorium ended, construction was resumed at a heightened pace. According to a Peace Now report, 1,629 new construction starts have been begun since the end of the moratorium. The total number of construction starts in all of 2009 was 1,900. Which means that the lost time will be made up for by the end of the year. It will be as if there never was a construction moratorium. That wouldn't be so terrible if the construction starts were restricted to the Israeli side of the separation barrier. But 34% of the construction starts were begun on the far side of the fence. Either way, if a ten-month-long construction moratorium had no significant impact, it is clear that a moratorium for another three months isn't going to have any impact either. Nothing. A very dubious achievement for the US administration. That means that from here on there are two options.

The first is that all of the central protagonists are complete fools, who are continuing to play a game that is entirely make-believe: there is no real construction moratorium. There are no peace talks. There are no agreements. There are only faux initiatives that are not going to lead anyone anywhere, just as nothing has happened in the past decade. And the three-month-long construction moratorium is merely another faux initiative.

The other option is that something serious is being assembled. It is inconceivable, simply unbelievable, that in exchange for the nothing that has been dubbed "a three-month-long moratorium," which will be over before we've even noticed it has begun, the US administration will give an astonishing basket of benefits that have strategic implications. So that, who knows, perhaps there are agreements in principle about the outline of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. And if that is the case then all of the statements that have been made by the principal protagonists, from Obama, via Netanyahu and through to Abu Mazen-are just a smokescreen that is geared to lay the groundwork for the breakthrough that has already been achieved.

There are many times in which we believe in the wake of certain developments that "the leaders know what they're doing." That is certainly the case when the US administration, with its countless number of advisers, think teams and think tanks in the background, are involved. Except that experience proves that the opposite is true. The world is in its current miserable state because most of the leaders overwhelmingly make bad decisions. Can anyone seriously think that Netanyahu is going to offer Abu Mazen something that resembles the Clinton plan or what Olmert offered? Will Abu Mazen accept that offer after he refused a similar offer twice in the last decade? The answers to those questions are well known. Netanyahu hasn't offered, and it is a shame that he hasn't. Abu Mazen hasn't been obliged to refuse, and it is a shame that he won't be exposed, once again, in his refusal.

So that this time too we are forced to conclude sadly that the first option is the correct one. The story of the three-month-long moratorium does not herald the advent of a serious peace agreement; rather, it is yet another meaningless step that is being taken by leaders who promote faux initiatives. And just so we know that folly reigns, in the end, if the joint effort being undertaken by Bugi and Hotovely proves to be successful, we will end up with a triple loss instead of a double gain: we will continue to build the greater Palestine full steam ahead, we won't receive any benefits and we will also be saddled with responsibility for the failure of the peace process.