Prime Minister Netanyahu has returned to Israel following his lengthy meeting with Secretary of State Clinton. News reports suggest that he has agreed to extend the moratorium on construction on the West Bank for a further period of three months.
Not unexpectedly, some of his coalition partners, including Yisrael Beiteinu, have already threatened to resign from the government should building work be halted. Netanyahu is reported as having responded that the details of the moratorium were still under discussion and that they would be brought to the cabinet for approval once finalized.
What is clear is that the Prime Minister seems unlikely to be able to deliver to the Americans what they want while still holding onto his present government. No less than four Likkud ministers have expressed their opposition to a renewed freeze on construction, while representatives of the settlers have accused Netanyahu of capitulation.
The storm surrounding this subject, which President Obama turned into an issue, only serves to highlight the challenges with which Israel’s Prime Minister will have to contend during the coming days. As if they were not of themselves sufficient, Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has also announced that a freeze that does not also include Jerusalem would be unacceptable to them.
It is to be hoped that Netanyahu will have the courage and strength of will not to allow the right-wing members of his coalition to torpedo this initiative. Were they to succeed, they would only be playing into the hands of those Palestinians, who would use the refusal to extend the moratorium as one more excuse for stalling the negotiations while laying the blame at Israel’s door.
Ultimately, what is required is not to score points over the issue of construction but to make progress towards a settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The coming days will show whether either party is really ready for that.