Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fumbled in Jerusalem last month when she hailed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to temporarily freeze West Bank settlement construction as "unprecedented," thereby suggesting it was somehow optimal. The 10-month freeze is far from ideal, because it allows completion of nearly 3,000 housing units and 28 public buildings already underway in the West Bank, and it doesn't include development in contested East Jerusalem. Still, it is important to acknowledge that this isis an unprecedented step for the right-wing Netanyahu, who has built a career out of opposing concessions to the Palestinians or negotiations for a separate state.
The man who helped stymie the Oslo peace accords during his first term as prime minister in the 1990s has declared himself willing to bargain in his second. Like Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert before him, Netanyahu gives the impression of having concluded that separate Israeli and Palestinian states are the best means of ensuring Israel's survival as a Jewish state. With caveats and preconditions, Netanyahu stated in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in June that he was ready to negotiate an agreement "where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state." After declaring the temporary freeze, his government has sent inspectors into the settlements to enforce stop-work orders.