Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
It does not require a degree in international relations to realize that there are too many people discussing Israeli settlements from various perspectives for it to be merely a huge coincidence. Not only have various Arab and U.S. officials engaged the question of the effect of continued expansion of existing Israeli settlements on the West Bank, but Israeli politicians of all stripes are pushing the question of the future of Israeli settlements.
There are serious voices suggesting unilateral Israeli withdrawal from some areas, while others are pushing for annexation of the occupied West Bank. Some are even presenting different positions, different voices, and different emphases, depending on the audience and/or the moment. This is apparently true of the Prime Minister as well as a number of his cabinet members as well.
What is absolutely clear is that neither annexation nor withdrawal will accomplish anything. This is what makes Bibi’s answer to Jeff Goldberg so perplexing. In an interview held last week and published on Friday in Bloomberg Views (http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-05-22/netanyahu-says-obama-got-syria-right), Goldberg pressed Netanyahu on why he opposed an indefinite freeze on settlements. Goldberg asked Bibi why and his reply was essentially that it would not work because it had never worked on any previous freeze.
Goldberg did not go far enough forcing the conversation or, as indeed was possible, this part was excised by agreement from the tapes. Goldberg needed Bibi to explain what there was to lose in trying it now; not that it had never worked. As Goldberg observed Israel could only garner positive world reaction to such a move.
Goldberg did not emphasize that Israel’s current strong security position had even effectively stopped most terrorist attacks now for several years. He also should have reiterated the fact that at this moment—absent the Iran nuclear threat—Israel held all the security trump cards and could use some support and good will in holding firm against Iran, which an indefinite freeze might well generate.
What is of most concern to many observers is whether there are some trial balloons being launched by Prime Minister prior to a dramatic move on settlements. All the other Israeli voices might well be sensing this as well. This would explain how and why many leaders are rushing to counter what they see coming and to prevent a move which they oppose.