NETANYAHUGailTibbon:AFP:Getty

In case anyone is still in any doubt as to Israel's determination to permanently annex the West Bank, prime minister Netanyahu's meeting with the settlers, or rather the "Leaders of Judea and Samaria Jewish Communities", should clear things up. The temporary halt on building settlements does not extend to East Jerusalem, of course, which will remain Israel's in its entirety for ever, and even the temporary semi-freeze on the West bank will end abruptly as soon as he can get past the deadline:

"The Cabinet decision is the optimal decision for the State of Israel in the complicated diplomatic situation in which we presently find ourselves, and given the various challenges facing us. We made this tough decision in order to advance Israel's broader interests. This step makes it clear to the main elements around the world that Israel aspires towards peace and is serious in its intention to achieve peace, while the Palestinians refuse to begin peace negotiations. This step makes it clear who is refusing peace."

He then reassures the Settlement movement of his deepest loyalties:

"The orders are not easy for you; neither are they easy for me.

We will work so that they are implemented in such way as to make it as easy as possible on the public. Wherever there are unnecessary difficulties – we will reduce them. I intend to pass your remarks along to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. At the same time, I ask you to speak to him directly. It is important that he hear you. Our policy is to implement the Cabinet decision while giving your concerns maximum consideration."

So the very limited gesture on settlement construction was conceded solely to placate the Americans, out-maneuver the Palestinians, make Israel look less intransigent than it actually is, and, in the long run, to allow for future total annexation:

"This order is one-time only and it limits the duration of the suspension. There are nine months and three weeks left. Once the suspension has expired, we will continue to build. I want to make it clear: The future of settlement will be determined only in a permanent peace agreement."

And if Netanyahu has his way, there will never be a permanent peace agreement, just the expansion of Israel in a forever war funded in large part by the US.

The truth must be told: Netanyahu has run rings around Obama and Clinton. And his triumph in humiliating the new president and secretary of state will only encourage future Israeli governments to continue to dictate the terms of American Middle East policy for the indefinite future. One suspects that Obama knows this and is biding his time, hoping for some way to break through. He has more hope than I do.

(Photo: an ebullient Netanyahu by Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty.)

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