Netanyahu folds under US pressure, will pull army out of West Bank towns before peace talks DEBKAfile Special Analysis 25 June:
Despite his pledge to keep security considerations uppermost in his dealings with the Palestinians, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is buckling under pressure from the US administration aimed at softening Israel up ahead of Middle East peace talks. This pressure turned Netanyahu's first official visits to Rome and Paris sour. He had hoped to outmaneuver the Obama administration's insistence on a total settlement freeze by winning the support of friendly Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy for a compromise formula that would entail also an early troop pullback from West Bank Palestinian towns. But he did not reckon on the Obama administration getting there first. So his arrival in Rome and Paris was preceded by Italian and French officials parroting the Washington line on a settlement freeze, including East Jerusalem Netanyahu's promise to the Italian and French leaders to pull the IDF out of the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and Qalqilya, has meanwhile gone on record, for no gain in either European capital or an Arab quid pro quo. The IDF has also been ordered to reduce to the number of checkpoints on the West Bank to 10 active facilities to allow the Palestinians to travel from town to town free of holdups for searches. All this adds up to the most sweeping redeployment of Israeli security forces since their unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria four years ago as part of Ariel Sharon's disengagement policy. The Obama administration has thus cornered the Netanyahu government into giving away valuable assets to the Palestinians before negotiations have even begun. This diplomatic dexterity has not been displayed in Washington's dealings with Iran.