Opinion

The Great Debate

In Israel, an unsettled peace process

August 14, 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is annoyed. Before meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday in Jerusalem, Netanyahu complained about a recent European Union decision to stop EU grants, prizes and loans from going to Israeli entities located in the occupied territories or that conduct activities there. “I have to say,” Netanyahu declared, “on a sad note, that I think Europe, the European guidelines (on the settlements) have actually undermined peace.”

In the topsy-turvy world of Israeli politics, it’s not the existence of the settlements, or their constant expansion, that undermines peace. It’s the attempts to curb their growth. This is like somebody blaming life-saving chemo treatments for making him sick.

Israel began building settlements almost immediately after the 1967 Six Day War when it captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. By 2012, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there were some 325,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements and another 190,000 in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which had been ruled by the Jordanians between the wars of 1948 and 1967. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 — although this has never been recognized by the international community.

Americans for Peace Now, which opposes the settlements, says that 42 percent of the West Bank has been zoned by Israel for the exclusive use of settlements.

Now that peace talks are finally resuming between Israel and the Palestinians, we should be prepared for more settlement announcements similar to those of the past few days, as opponents of the negotiations within the Israeli government do their best to scuttle them.

On Sunday, the Housing Ministry said it began marketing 1,200 housing units in East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs around the capital, while last week the Civil Administration approved construction of hundreds of housing units in secluded settlements. On Monday, another 900 units in East Jerusalem were approved by the Housing Ministry.

The number of settlers grew by 15,000 last year and has doubled in the past 12 years, according to Israel’s population registry. If all the new units announced recently are built, that pace will be maintained.

While these announcements in themselves will not determine the future of the peace talks, they are provocative and make the negotiations more difficult. They embarrass Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, making him look weak and constricting his ability to make concessions. They also give ammunition to Palestinians, like Hamas and other rejectionist groups, who simply do not believe that Netanyahu is serious about making peace.

According to Kerry, Netanyahu told him and Abbas that these announcements were coming and maintained they would not affect Israel’s ability to negotiate.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu was completely upfront with me and with President Abbas that he would be announcing some additional building that would take place in places that will not affect the peace map, that will not have any impact on the capacity to have a peace agreement,” Kerry told reporters Tuesday in Brazil. Still, he reiterated that the United States regards all settlements as “illegitimate.”

In their book, “Lords of the Land: The War for Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories 1967-2007,” authors Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar show how some Israeli governments sought to appease the settlers, turning a blind eye to their activities; while other administrations have openly adopted the settlers’ agenda, which is to make it impossible for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. “Deception, shame, concealment, denial and repression have characterized the state’s behavior with respect to the flow of funds to the settlements,” they write. “It can be said that this has been an act of public duplicity in which all the Israeli governments since 1967 have been partner.”

The settlements, many founded in defiance of Israeli law through subterfuge on stolen land, are enclaves of Israel within the West Bank. More than a third of the West Bank is now off limits to Palestinians who cannot build on, cultivate or develop the land.

The settlement movement has never lost a political battle. It may have suffered temporary legal setbacks from time to time — but it has always found ways of getting around them or having them reversed. Now the settlement movement has effectively taken over Netanyahu’s Likud Party — in recent internal elections, the top slots were all won by pro-settlement politicians openly opposed to a two-state solution. Also represented in the government is the “Jewish Home” Party, which has as its founding ideology the annexation of most of the West Bank.

Obviously, a lot needs to happen if there is to be peace. The parties need to negotiate the border and the future of Jerusalem and Israeli security concerns must be addressed. Any agreement must win the support of a majority of the Israeli people as well as the Palestinians.

But it’s also clear that sooner or later, the settlement movement will have to be confronted and politically defeated for peace to come. The showdown will probably come if and when a deal is struck that involves the evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers from a future Palestinian state.

It will be a painful, wrenching, divisive, emotional battle and it may even turn violent. But it is a necessary battle to restore Israel to health.

It’s unclear what role Netanyahu will play in this decisive political confrontation — which will be no less than a battle for the soul of Israel. Up to now, he has been the consummate pragmatist, always putting off the tough decisions, playing for the short-term, making whatever compromises he needs to make to stay in office. He has both frozen settlements for 10 months, when that seemed advantageous, and presided over their expansion, when that seemed necessary.

Will Netanyahu be the man to face down and defeat the settlers — or the patient who continues to confuse the disease with the cure?

PHOTO: A general view of apartment blocks under construction is seen in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beitar Ilit, near Bethlehem August 11, 2013. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

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What is most astonishing is the extraordinary difference in Washington’s reaction to the Israeli announcements of new settlement building and to the Palestinians’ announcement last year that they would seek nonmember observer state status from the UN General Assembly. Mr. Kerry appeared to accept the new burst of settlement activity after noting that he had been tipped off in advance by Mr. Netanyahu. But the Obama administration launched a worldwide diplomatic campaign to put pressure on the Palestinians to back off from going to the U.N., insisting that all matters must be resolved by negotiations between the parties. The Palestinians are expected to respond to every U.S. entreaty while the Israelis respond to no one.

Posted by irwin2 | Report as abusive
 

Israel suffers from the battered spouse syndrome that will continue for generations until it takes responsibility for ignoring its own transgressions.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive
 

A J street opinion piece here, what the Guardian would not print it?

FYI J street people are serious dhimmis, they excuse multitudes crimes by Palestinians and say the onus of peace is on Israel. J street is all about the 21st century, history aka treaties,resolutions and declaration before wwII have no bearing on the Palestinian State.

/and of course the gorilla in the room is that I/P peace talks will do almost nothing for peace in the Middle East now the “Arab Spring” is loose.

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive
 

“These announcements do determine the future of the peace talks, they are provocative and make the negotiations more difficult” to impossible. They constrict the ability to make concessions, and give ammunition to Hamas and other rejectionist groups to perpetuate Jihad and continue to usher in and create a ripe environment for WW3. Netanyahu is not serious about making peace, he is only concerned with creating his perfect Jewish State at everyone else’s expense, epically the average “Christian” tax paying American.

“Netanyahu told him and Abbas that these announcements were coming and maintained they would not affect Israel’s ability to negotiate.” They only effect everyone else’s ability no negotiate. “The United States regards all settlements as “illegitimate.”” And, so what if the US holds this public opinion, it makes absolutely no difference what so ever what the US thinks, just keep the US tax checks and military going.

““Deception, shame, concealment, denial and repression have characterized the state’s behavior with respect to the flow of funds to the settlements,” they write. “It can be said that this has been an act of public duplicity in which all the Israeli governments since 1967 have been partner.”” And the US government. A third of the Waste Bank is off limits for building unless you are a Jew. In the US this is called “red lining” and is generally considered discriminatory (but that law, like most others, doesn’t really matter and “it” happens anyway.)

There will not be peace, the US Government cannot afford to lose our Number one Industry. Israeli security concerns must be addressed ideally by Israel as a Sovereign Country. Please, keep the US out of Israel’s bedroom. We have enough of our own problems and don’t need to take on Israel’s problems as well. There will not and cannot be “an agreement of a majority of the Israeli people as well as the Palestinians.”

“The showdown will probably come if and when a deal is struck that involves the evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers from a future Palestinian state.” Why doesn’t the UN just relocate the Palestinian people to their own country. Just tell them that god said they can have a third of France for example. Or, why can’t we give them Florida or Galveston Island?

Posted by 2Borknot2B | Report as abusive
 

I don’t believe Netanyahu wants a real negotiation. These pretend negotiations are just a fig leaf, providing a little bit more cover as the Hebrews continue on with their plans to gobble up more of the West Bank. I disagree that Hamas and the other hardliners are rejectionists; they are realists and they refuse to do things just to make the U.S. or the Israelis look good. What’s hard to understand is why Abbas would even do this. Perhaps he feels it will help him hang onto his leadership role a little longer, but really I have no idea. Apparently all the humiliations over the years haven’t been enough for him to just say “screw it, and screw you” and go off to France or wherever and enjoy a decent retirement. The J Street author contends that somehow Israeli leaders will have to confront the settler groups at some point, but if they can’t even freeze settlements now for a time, how can it be expected that they will “confront” settler groups later on? It’s an impossible dream. Instead, what the land and people are headed for is a long period of apartheid style separation, followed by the ultimate dissolution of the Jewish state, as Palestinian Arabs eventually overwhelm the Jewish minority.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive
 

For one thing they’re not settlements, they’re colonies unless they’re built on land Israel had pre-’67. They have the entire Negev to build on but they put their finger in the eye of every Palestinian by building on disputed ground.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive
 

What about the longterm consequences of the settlements? Aren’t Israel shooting themselves in the foot, by eliminating the possible of a two state solution and leading the way towards a one state solution, in which they would lose their jewish identity, their autonomy and their majority (larger Palestinian population)?

Posted by MideastIssues | Report as abusive
 

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