Bibi Freezes Construction?

Here’s a mystery: Why has the recent crisis in U.S.-Israel relations suddenly seemed to clear up?

Here’s an answer: A secret understanding between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama to stop construction in Jerusalem outside its 1967 borders for a while.

There hasn't been -- and won’t be -- any public confirmation of such an understanding, yet it seems quite likely that this has happened. In effect, Netanyahu is saying: We are cooperating in every way possible, so how can you complain about us?

Behind this argument is an Israeli belief that Obama will now be able to see the difference between a cooperative Israel and an intransigent Palestinian Authority, which will block any progress on peace. Indeed, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has already provided an example of that paradigm -- he publicly stated that he wants a solution imposed from outside, not one negotiated with Israel and requiring any compromises or concessions on his part.

Netanyahu has taken another step which was more public. At times in the past, he has defined the next stage of talks as being more limited -- not including, for example, a discussion on the future status of Jerusalem in any comprehensive peace agreement. The Israeli prime minister now says he is willing to discuss all issues.

But any freeze on Jerusalem won’t be made too explicit for a number of reasons. First, ever since the Oslo agreement was originally made in 1993, Israeli leaders have maintained that they interpret it as permitting construction on existing settlements and Jerusalem. For 17 years, the PA accepted this position. It never refused to talk on the basis that such construction was happening. Only when President Barack Obama raised the issue in 2009, it became apparent that the PA couldn’t be less militant than the American president.

Last October, the United States accepted a deal, with lavish praise for Obama, that construction would cease for nine months in the West Bank but would continue in Jerusalem. When the equivalent of a zoning commission announced during Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Jerusalem that a housing project had passed the fourth of seven steps and might be built in several years, this was blown up by the White House into a major insult.

In fact, the United States was going back on its own deal. Moreover, the PA decision to name a square in Ramallah after a PLO terrorist who had murdered two dozen Israeli civilians and an American citizen sparked no such outrage.