In what Netanyahu presumably would like to be seen as a wonderful gesture for the New Year, he announced that he requested that the housing minister not announce tenders for new West Bank homes until Secretary Kerry concludes his new peace-making mission to the Middle East. The Netanyahu Government has repeatedly done these types of disingenuous gestures back and forth with U.S. officials beginning with Vice-President Biden’s trip to Israel. This effort by the Prime Minister to appear to be gracious is like actually telling your rabbi that you will wait to have your ham and cheese sandwich until after you finish your meeting.
There are two fundamental serious problems with this type of policy. On the one hand, if the Netanyahu Government believes in or has a political need to expand settlement—as most observers believe—they need to conduct their policy, take their lumps, and move on. Their current approach suggests that the Government wants to soften the criticism for their policy because of some false niceties that it displays towards officials of their only reliable, friendly Government in world. In addition to any internal political gamesmanship that Netanyahu is playing, flip-flopping on this issue in public demonstrates consistently weak leadership which only a naïve statesman could misconstrue to be truly waffling on the issue of expanding settlements.
On the other hand, the Netanyahu Government has numerous internal vulnerabilities within the coalition Government as well as within Netanyahu’s own Likud Party. In playing this transparent flip-flopping game, Bibi can suggest to the world that he is playing this game because of his internal political exigencies; while in truth telling his partners that he must play this game only to keep Israel’s friends believing he genuinely does not want to expand settlements but is being forced politically to do so.
Perhaps the most annoying and frustrating part of this entire charade is that it has happened so frequently that no one is impressed by it. In fact, Israel’s diplomatic behavior is only that much more degraded by a Prime Minister who treats a significant geopolitical issue with long-term consequences for regional peace as merely a football.