Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Settlement Freeze Still the Hot Topic
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is now in Europe to meet in London with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown today and US peace envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday. He will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday.
According to our latest article , the settlement freeze controversy will dominate discussions, though Netanyahu is also keen to coordinate with Britain and Germany on opposition to Iran’s nuclear program. (For more information on Netanyahu’s Europe trip, check out our factbox.)
In the midst of the debate, some organizations say that settlements continue to grow.
“On the eve of the visit,” says Reuters Allyn Fisher-Ilan, “Peace Now, an Israeli group opposed to Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory, said on Sunday that despite a government moratorium announced last week on approving new housing in the West Bank enclaves, more than 40,000 more homes could be built under plans already ratified.” Settler groups complain that families living there are being constrained by hindrances to building.
Even touchier than the settlement issue in the West Bank has been settlement building in East Jerusalem. An article in Ha’aretz says that Israel’s Jerusalem municipality is reviewing plans to construct 104 apartments there.
The report comes in the wake of rising tensions in East Jerusalem after the eviction of some Palestinian families from their houses. (See our report on that here, and a blog with video clips of protests against the evictions here.) Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the West Bank in the 1967 war. Palestinians want the capital of a future Palestinian state to be in Jerusalem.
Despite such reports, Netanyahu said last week that there was “significant progress” in US-Israeli negotiations. “We are not there, but we are getting close,” an Israeli official said.
As of now, Israeli is hoping to set a 6 month freeze, while the US is demanding a two year freeze. Yet pressure from right-leaning Knesset members remains, such as this video from the Jerusalem Post of one MK pushing the prime minister to keep settlement construction moving.
Aaron David Miller, a Middle East advisor for six US secretaries of state, is also weighing in on the ongoing settlement controversy between the United States and Israel. He says an agreement will probably be finished by September or October. But Miller also argues that from this point onward, Obama’s course will be more difficult than other US predecessors in the peace process: “Kissinger, Carter and Baker weren’t dealing with matters that were nearly as consequential – like Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, refugees – as Barack Obama is going to have to deal with.”
Miller suggests it will be important for Obama to foster better ties with Israel while maintaining a firm stance. “In each of [the previous cases], they were plenty tough in asserting America’s national interests. They also found ways to work with their respective Israeli prime ministers.”
For now however, the question remains about whether all sides, US, Israeli, and Palestinian, can get over the settlement impasse. Last week, Reuters reported on lots of blame traded between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators over who is responsible for stalled talks.
As the settlement stumbling block remains, the biggest US-Israeli rift in a decade lingers on. Do you think the coming talks in Europe can cool down the summer’s hot-button issue?
PHOTO: Benjamin Netanyahu and George Mitchell in Jerusalem. July 28, 2009. REUTERS/Dan Bality/Pool