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The 'missing' American Letter

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,Hillary Clinton, Binyamin NetanyahuBy Sherine Tadros

We’ve all been warned to expect postal delays after the recent parcel bomb scare, but I’m not sure we can blame DHL for the delay in the so-called US ‘letter of incentives’ getting to Israel.

The letter is meant to formalise the offer communicated last Thursday by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister.

Israel agrees to a 90-day freeze in settlement building in return for US jets and support at the UN.  If we put aside the 20 fighter jets (now rumoured to be part of the normal yearly aid package to Israel and not scheduled to be delivered until 2015) and the promise from the US to block anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN (when have they ever not), it seems that it’s the guarantees not the carrots that’s delaying delivery of the letter.

An Israeli government source told me the disagreement is over whether the US will guarantee they won’t ask for a further extension of the partial settlement freeze after the 90-day period is up. The US wants to keep this part fluid, making it dependent on whether progress is made on the border issue in those three months. Israel wants an unconditional guarantee that this is the last freeze. What’s obvious from this disagreement is that neither have faith that anything will be achieved in 90 days.

Three months and counting ...

Israel argues, rightly, that you cannot separate the issue of borders from that of Jerusalem and security. These words have become empty to the outside world, but they are loaded in Israel and the occupied territories.

Ninety days to decide on where to draw the line to divide populations, 90 days to decide on the fate of half a million settlers, 90 days to deal with the explosive issue of who will control Judaism’s and Islam’s (and Christianity’s for that matter) holiest sites.

True the sides are not starting from scratch – other 'peace processes' have come up with maps and drawn borders – but these processes have failed, so why is this one going to succeed (in 90 days ... including the holidays)?

Meanwhile, there could be serious consequences to the process breaking down at this point. Right wing settlers are up in arms (literally) about restrictions in past months on settlement construction, violence in Gaza is increasing with Israel carrying out two assassinations in a week and in the West Bank the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator is threatening the collapse of the PA, if direct talks fail.

Although nobody had expectations when these talks were launched in September that a deal would be clinched, the stakes were raised the moment Israeli and Palestinian leaders set foot on US soil and shook hands.

If the US letter ever does arrive, it will serve to keep those stakes up a little while longer. But unless the Americans have an extraordinary trick up their sleeve, it will all come crashing down 90 days later.

Sherine Tadros reports from Israel and the Palestinian Territories.


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