The effort to close the gaps between the Israeli and American positions on the terms of a settlement freeze are accelerating. Netanyahu's top negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, arrives in Washington Monday, to prepare for the Netanyahu/Mitchell meeting planned for London on August 26. Netanyahu and Obama may meet in late September when world leaders gather for the opening of the UN General Assembly.
Major gaps remain on many of the specific dimensions of a settlement freeze:
(1) Projects already under construction: Of the 2,500 units already in some stage of construction, which projects, and where, will be "grandfathered in" and exempted from the "freeze"? Netanyahu is willing to suspend new approvals for a period of time, but he has no remaining authority over many of the projects already under construction.
(2) Jerusalem: Israel will not accept the principle that any part of Jerusalem inside the juridical boundaries of the city that were recorded in the "Basic Law--Jerusalem" in 1980 be treated as merely "administered territory" like the West Bank. The United States has never recognized Israel's law as binding, and in fact voted for U.N. Security Council Resolution 478 (1980) which described it as "Null and void…a violation of international law." How will the U.S. explain the exclusion of Jerusalem from the terms of a settlement freeze?
(3) Duration: Netanyahu is prepared to agree to a freeze of six months duration. The U.S. seeks a more extended freeze.
(4) The "Exit Strategy": When the agreed period of a freeze expires, who will decide whether sufficient progress is being achieved in political talks to justify an extension, and on what terms? Under what circumstances will the U.S. accept that the freeze has expired and construction may resume? In what sense is a temporary freeze temporary?
(5) The Bush/Sharon understandings: Israel is quite unhappy that the Obama Administration refuses to recognize the validity of understandings about limitations on settlements that were agreed between past governments of the two countries. At the end of the agreed freeze period, Israel would like either a reaffirmation of those understandings, or their replacement by an acceptable set of new understandings that will prevent future conflicts over this vexing issue.
(6) Written agreement: Because the Obama team has declined to recognize a previous verbal understanding as binding, Israel wants any new understanding in writing.
Progress is being made on some of these issues, but agreement remains elusive. Haaretz notes that email correspondence and telephone calls have been conducted between Molcho, Uzi Arad, and Ron Dermer and Mitchell's staff, as well as with White House officials Dan Shapiro and Denis Ross.