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Guest Voice

Draw the Line on Israel's Settlements

By Lara Friedman and Hagit Ofran

From the earliest days of the peace process, it was clear that Israel's settlements would be one of the most contentious issues on the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli domestic agendas. Conventional wisdom has held that serious Israeli action on settlements must be put off until a deal is ready to be signed. This is based on the logic that given the huge amount of political capital it will cost any Israeli government either to freeze settlements or to pursue peace, no Israeli government can do both at the same time. This logic has been advanced in Israel and in Washington since the time of Yitzhak Rabin, and has been largely accepted by every U.S. government since George H.W. Bush.

But such logic is a dangerous trap. Far from smoothing the path to peace, these settlements' continued expansion directly undermines any chance of reaching a peace agreement. We say this with conviction born of experience from 15 years of peace efforts.

Why? Because it emboldens settlers and their advocates, who are more than happy to play the various political parties off each other, creating an incentive for Israeli governments to indulge their demands.

Why? Because settlement expansion further complicates the situation on the ground, making it even more difficult to eventually "unscramble the egg" and establish a viable Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.

Why? Because every new house, plan, and approval deals a body blow to the credibility of peace efforts and undermines pro-peace Palestinian leaders; Palestinians interpret these moves as indications that Israel is not serious about peace.

If the Obama administration's Middle East peace efforts are to be credible, let alone successful, President Obama and his officials must not fall into this same trap. They must recognize that a comprehensive settlement freeze needs to be the starting point, not the ending point, of its peace efforts.

This means no longer accepting rationalizations and procrastination tactics on the issue. It means refusing to get pulled into endless, artificial debates about what "expanding a settlement" actually means - debates whose clear purpose is to delay, water down, or scuttle any settlement freeze.

It means not buying arguments about settlements needing to expand to accommodate "natural growth," bearing in mind that growth in settlements is not "natural" in any way, but is the result of government policies designed to attract Israelis to settlements and keep them there.

It means rejecting efforts to create special categories of settlements that Israel wants to continue to expand - like those in the ever-expanding, unofficial "settlement blocs." It means adopting a policy that is predicated on the clear recognition that any settlement expansion directly threatens the prospects for ever achieving a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreement - including an agreement under which Israel could receive recognized, permanent claim to some of the settlements it holds most dear.

It means laying down a clear red line: no settlement expansion of any kind, period. It means no new settlement construction or planning, a freeze on construction and plans that are in the pipeline, a freeze on projects that are already proceeding (and compensation, as necessary, for investors and developers), and the cancellation of policies that encourage Israelis to move to settlements.

The government of Israel has the power to enforce such a freeze. Israeli planning and construction in the West Bank - an area that Israel has never annexed - are not treated as merely technical or bureaucratic matters under Israeli law. Rather, the government of Israel recognizes that such activities have special political, security and diplomatic significance. As a result, all settlement planning and construction require the direct approval of the political echelons of the Israeli government - primarily the Minister of Defense and sometimes the entire cabinet.

The government of Israel has the power to freeze settlements completely. Whether it does so is strictly a question of political will, not legal authority.

In 1993, at the outset of the peace process, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin asserted that Israel must "continue the peace process as If there is no terror, and fight terror as if there is no peace process." He was certainly right in this view.

However, the similar view on settlements - the view that says that Israel can "negotiate peace as if there is no settlement expansion and expand settlements as if there are no peace negotiations" - is dangerously wrong. It is a dangerous trap that President Obama must avoid. .


Lara Friedman is director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now. Hagit Ofran is the director of Peace Now's Settlements Watch. The two are co-authors of the organization's periodic publication Settlements in Focus.

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Comments (8)

Marshalldoc Author Profile Page:

Response to "SPOTZ":

Considering that international law precludes the acquisition of land through war and that Israel holds all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza illegally (even the U.S., the Virgin Islands, and Samoa - the usual 'vote with Israel' crowd in the U.N. - recognize that fact), what exactly should Israel "get" as a 'prize' for withdrawing?

When a thief invades your home, ransacks your belongings, kills your family members, and then leaves, what exactly, would you "give" him as a 'reward'?

Let's be real, shall we? Israel's constant litany of "poor little me, put upon by these monsters who threaten me with annihilation", has been nullified by the events since 1967.

The only real threats to Israel's existence are her own behaviors & policies.

Marshalldoc Author Profile Page:

This is a nice, well-written, and largely accurate essay given its underlying predicate: "The Gov't of Israel desires a peaceful two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine Problem".

The problem, of course, is that, since 1948, there's been no evidence that predicate is the case. In fact, the Israeli government's actions, particularly with regard to the lands acquired in 1967, has been "The Gov't of Israel desires the establishment of "Greater Israel" occupying all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea".

To effect that goal, the Israeli government has engaged in a series of "good faith" negotiations in order to dissemble and salve the world's conscience while continuing to establish "facts on the ground" that make their real goal inevitable.

The real question facing the Obama administration is whether or not it is willing to recognize the reality of Israel's intentions, confront Israel with the need to not just stop building settlements, but to evacuate the West Bank entirely (including East Jerusalem)and remove the blockade on Gaza, and to enforce that stance by withdrawing all military & economic aid, and establishing economic sanctions as needed or is it going to continue a hypocritical "peace process" in which its need to appear relevant is stroked by soft words from Bibi Netanyahu while the West Bank is consumed by Israeli settlements after which the world will weep crocodile tears and lament (a la "The Walrus & the Carpenter") that they'd love to save the Palestinians but, alas, the Israelis has eaten them, every one.

yeolds Author Profile Page:

At this point, in my opinion, the settlement issue has gone so far that the two state solution is impossible. 200 000+ rabid Zionist in the West Bank in a broken political system [too many parties] have an absolute veto over peace efforts.

Short of Uncle Sam cancelling all aid to Israel AND MAKING IT ILLEGEL TO SEND MONEY TO ISRAL, or SANCTIONING ISRAEL a la RSA in the past, there is no will to settle, especially by the extre right wing parties supporting the present government in Israel.

gsroselaw Author Profile Page:

Guess who said this:

"The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transition period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs and a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated."

Tragically, it was Ronald Reagan, the "best friend Israel ever had," in announcing his peace plan on September 1, 1982--tragic, because Israel was permitted to ignore this admonition, and since then, the settlements have vastly complicated the process of reaching peace in the Middle East. Its also worth noting that Reagan eventually persuaded Arafat and certain Arab states to agree to negotiate peace based on his plan (washington-report.org/backissues/110485/851104003.html) but Israel rejected it outright.

periboob Author Profile Page:

I am rather unconcerned about the settlements, as long as this action is detached from US support. The US must stop blindly backing the actions of Israel and blocking UN actions against them. We must let them go their own way. The way it is now, we are a super-power assisting a playground bully, and it prevents them from learning the true consequences of their actions.

arotnemer Author Profile Page:

I agree about the settlements, but based on reactions that I hear and read, I would advise everyone, including Lara and Hagit, to submit proposals that have both sides giving up on the things that are clearly obstacles to peace. For example, the recognition of a Jewish state should also be the "starting point" of negotiations if the settlement issue is - I think Peace Now agrees with this.

spot2 Author Profile Page:

Hard to believe the Post would waste space on such an article. Its the usual Israel should give, give , give. This land was captured after Jordan attacked Israel in 1967. So what does she get for withdrawing? Apparently nothing according to this author its only Israel that compromises. The Palestinians have shown they can continue to terrorize. Israel still is willing to negotiate and will compensate for the areas of land it wants to keep. But Peace Now has delusions that Israel should give with nothing in return.

ardestani Author Profile Page:

Nice article and I totally agree. I'm afriad though it won't be long before you're labeled an anti-semite.

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