At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, Israel television broadcast an interview with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, which was simultaneously shown on Egyptian television.
Although the interview touched on a number of issues, including the Egyptian initiative to establish a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, the primary focus was on the current round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mubarak repeatedly used the interview to call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to extend the freeze on construction in the settlements for a further 3-4 months, in order to give the negotiations a chance of succeeding. In the event of a recommencement of building, Mahmoud Abbas has already threatened to withdraw from the talks.
We believe that it would be wise for Israel’s government to respond positively to such a call for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is in Israel’s interests, particularly in relationship to Egypt and the international community, to be seen as being flexible and prepared to compromise for the sake of peace.
Furthermore, as we have argued previously, Israel should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that she is not labelled as the one responsible for the anticipated breakdown in the current round of negotiations. There is a Hebrew saying: “Don’t be right – be clever.” Now is the time for Israel’s political leaders to be clever.
Thirdly, building in areas that would, in all likelihood, be handed over to the Palestinian Authority in the context of an agreement is simply to waste resources and create expectations that can only lead to disappointment at a later stage.
There will be some who will question whether Prime Minister Netanyahu would be able to persuade his coalition partners to agree to a further freeze of 3-4 months. However, none of them is eager to go to elections at this time. It is, therefore, to be hoped that Israel’s Prime Minister will accede to the request for an extension to the halt on construction. As another Hebrew saying goes: “Only an ass doesn’t change its mind.”