Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Settlement Freeze: No Exceptions
By M J Rosenberg
ccun.org, May 26, 2009
Clarifications in blue are
added by the editor of ccun.org.
Prime Minister (of the Israeli
occupation government) Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to
Washington was pretty much a bust. That is because the definition of a
successful meeting between world leaders is one where some sort of
agreement is reached. Netanyahu’s discussions with President Barack Obama
(and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others) resulted in little
meeting of the minds. The two governments strongly disagree on the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Their differences were neither narrowed
nor widened this week, they were only more clearly delineated. We now know
where each side stands.
The sharpest difference between the two
leaders was over the two-state solution and the methods employed to
achieve it. Obama repeatedly invoked the two-state concept while Netanyahu
simply refused to utter the phrase. This refusal represents a repudiation
of Israel’s previous policy, a significant step backwards.
Netanyahu did say that he favors the immediate resumption of negotiations
with the Palestinians. But, by refusing to endorse a Palestinian state as
one of the goals of those negotiations, he removed any incentive for
Palestinians to engage in the process. His idea of negotiations is
Seinfeldian: they would be about nothing. Netanyahu’s “peace process”
would involve a little economic development here, a little
institution-building there, but nothing truly significant.
anyone really think that the Palestinians are going to negotiate with
Israel in order to achieve an amorphous form of autonomy (which is all
Netanyahu is offering)? That idea was rejected by the Palestinians when
Prime Minister (of the Israeli occupation
government) Menachem Begin offered it thirty years ago.
Nor are Palestinians interested in Netanyahu’s plans for economic
growth projects while under occupation. Would the Israelis of 1947 have
abandoned their dream of statehood in exchange for economic development
projects? If economic development and infrastructure were such significant
incentives, the Jews (who were allowed by
the British to enter Palestine) would happily have
stayed within the British Empire. After all, the British were providing
Of course, the Jews (who were
allowed by the British to enter Palestine) would not
have traded sovereignty for infrastructure. All peoples want and deserve
economic improvement, but few, if any, will give up national rights to
Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians develop the
institutions of a democratic state before actually having a state is both
silly and redundant. Most of those institutions have been developed since
the Palestinian Authority was established in 1993. The Palestinians would,
as is normal, develop the rest once they control their own territory (and
lives), not while under total Israeli occupation.
In any case,
Netanyahu’s offer is meaningless so long as settlements, the wall,
checkpoints, and Israelis-only roads make Palestinian commerce impossible.
In a sense, Netanyahu is hoisted on his own petard. There can be no
significant Palestinian economic development under occupation.
Economic development requires freedom of movement—and that requires moving
toward the end of the occupation, which is most certainly not Netanyahu’s
intention. His goal seems to be to maintain the occupation for as long as
possible in order to avoid conflict with the crazy right, for whom
Israel’s security is infinitely less important than maintaining its hold
on “Judea and Samaria.”
Fortunately, the Obama administration
understands that and is therefore demanding that Israel “stop settlements”
as a first step.
That is utterly reasonable. The settlement
enterprise continually gobbles up the land upon which a Palestinian state
would be built. Every settlement, legal or illegal, is an obstacle to
Palestinian sovereignty. Allowing settlements to remain is to condemn
Palestinians to permanent refugee status which is, to a large extent, the
point. If Washington is determined to see implementation of the two-state
solution, the settlements have to be stopped.
The problem is that
for thirty some years successive Israeli governments have ignored the
United States on this issue. On occasion, it accepts a “settlement
freeze,” but then creates exceptions. It maintains that the freeze does
not apply to East Jerusalem, that it does not apply to “natural growth,”
or to the major “settlement blocs.”
Today, the Israeli government
simply says that stopping settlements is impossible because doing so would
bring down the Netanyahu government—which is hardly America’s problem. If
the Obama administration believes that opposing settlements is a matter of
principle, it must insist upon it without exception and without regard to
Netanyahu’s political situation.
This is not to say that Israelis
cannot assert a right to exceptions related to East Jerusalem, “natural
growth,” settlement blocs, or whatever, once borders are established. Of
course they can. But only in the context of final status negotiations, not
in advance of negotiations or as an excuse not to engage in negotiations.
The same applies to Israel’s desire for recognition as a Jewish
state or its insistence that the Arab moderates offer
“confidence-building” concessions in advance of negotiations. It is all
well and good to request that the Arab states permit El Al planes to fly
over their territory, but only after the completion of successful
Demanding these concessions as a precondition for
negotiations is a total nonstarter. By the same logic, the Palestinians
should be able to demand recognition of their right to a capital in East
Jerusalem as a precondition for negotiations. But they don’t. They simply
state that they will place that demand on the table once final status
Neither side should be permitted to establish
preconditions for negotiations. Stopping the settlements is not a
precondition because their increase makes an agreement impossible (once
the land is gone, there is nothing to negotiate about). It is comparable
only to the cessation of terror. No one would ask Israel to negotiate with
the Palestinian Authority while the PA was engaged in terror activity
against Israel. For Palestinians, the settlement enterprise, which turns
their lives into a living hell, is the same thing. The only difference is
that the PA does not engage in acts of terror and, with American
assistance, is successfully combating attempts at terror by others. The
settlements, however, continue to grow. And grow. And grow.
Obama administration is right to insist on a settlement freeze and the
elimination of illegal outposts, without exception. Otherwise, the peace
process that Obama is determined to bring to completion will be stillborn.
Palestinians do not like our position on refugee return. Israelis do not
like our position on getting rid of the settlements. Fine. They have the
right to be heard. But in the context of final status negotiations, not as
a precondition for them.
President Obama surely understands that.
As Prime Minister Netanyahu must have learned during his meeting with our
new president, the man was not born yesterday.
MJ Rosenberg is the Director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy