President Barack Obama's attempts to mentor Israeli-Palestinian talks are in chaos following his administration's failure to persuade Israel to freeze construction of settlements for another 90 days. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reached an agreement, with the former offering billions of dollars and diplomatic support. However, Mr. Netanyahu subsequently said that his Cabinet would not accept a freeze without further U.S. commitments, which he said should include 20 F-35 warplanes and a written pledge to veto United Nations resolutions calling for the recognition of a Palestinian state. It is not clear if the additional Israeli requirements relate to a moratorium — the original 10-month one covered only the West Bank and not East Jerusalem — or to a final peace deal but the U.S. did not meet the demands. In consequence, the talks that began with three meetings between Mr. Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in September are indefinitely stalled. The Palestinians are refusing to engage in further direct talks unless construction is halted; and Mr. Abbas is threatening to dissolve the Authority if an agreement for Palestinian statehood cannot be reached.
Mr. Netanyahu will not be troubled by the stalemate or by criticism that he cannot control his Cabinet. That his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, wants Israeli Arabs — about 20 per cent of Israel's population — compulsorily transferred to any future Palestinian state makes it easy for him to claim that his hands are tied. Mr. Netanyahu now says he cannot risk dismantling illegal settlements and facing a revolt by hardline soldiers. The results are already clear, with publicly funded rabbis endorsing a colleague's ruling that Jewish Israelis must not rent or sell property to Arabs. It is unlikely that Tel Aviv will take any action against such racist incitement. It is also increasingly obvious, as Noam Chomsky points out, that the so-called peace talks are not between the Palestinians and Israel with U.S. moderation, but instead have the Palestinians on one side facing Israel and its “grovelling” supporter, the U.S., on the other. Inevitably, Israel is encountering more explicit international opposition. Brazil and Argentina have recognised a de facto Palestinian state based on the 1967 pre-war borders, and Uruguay is to follow suit next year. Legitimate Palestinian claims to statehood cannot be resisted for much longer.