If settlements were the obstacle, we would have had peace long ago. The real obstacle is Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state within any borders, as reflected in Palestinian leaders’ statements and in Palestinian media. Indeed, there were no settlements when Palestinian violence against Jews began in 1920 or when violence escalated into wars and terrorism between 1948 and 1967. When Israel evacuated all settlements in Gaza in 2005, terrorism and hostility escalated. When Israel offered to dismantle west bank settlements for peace in 2000 and 2008, Palestinian leaders said no. The controversy about settlements is a symptom, not a cause, of the conflict, which is rooted in Palestinian rejectionism. When Palestinians return to the negotiating table in good faith, settlements, which comprise less than 2 percent of west bank land, and other outstanding issues can be resolved.
(Stand With Us)
An aerial view of Israel’s security dilemma and settlements
June 19, 2014
Facts on the Ground: the Israeli Settlement Slowdown
Council on Foreign Relations: Pressure Points
Criticism of construction in Israeli settlements has grown in the last five years, not least in Washington–but in this same period Israel has been focusing more and more of the construction in less and less of the West Bank. In a new article at the Foreign Affairs web site entitled “Facts on the Ground: Inside Israel’s Settlement Slowdown,” Uri Sadot and I explain the story Here are some excerpts:
Under Netanyahu’s current government, construction outside the so-called major settlement blocs — the areas most likely to remain part of Israel in a final peace settlement — has steadily decreased. Over the past five years, the number of homes approved for construction in the smaller settlements has amounted to half of what it was during Netanyahu’s first premiership in 1996–99. Moreover, the homes the government is now approving for construction are positioned further west, mostly in the major blocs or in areas adjacent to the so-called Green Line, the de facto border separating Israel from the West Bank. The 1,500 units that Israel announced plans for earlier this month were also in the major blocs and in East Jerusalem, continuing the pattern…
Israeli construction is now concentrated in Jerusalem and the major blocs — in the two percent of the West Bank territory that the Palestinian leadership was apparently willing to accept as Israeli in 2008.
The Israelis are still constructing beyond the security fence and in areas inside the fence that will undoubtedly be hotly contested in any future negotiation over a final agreement. But there is a paradox in the increasingly frequent denunciations of Israeli construction in the United States and Europe: they are coming at the same time as Israeli construction has become increasingly limited to areas that even Palestinians acknowledge will ultimately remain part of Israel.
Accusations that Netanyahu is reluctant to negotiate for peace bury the true headline: that his government has unilaterally reduced Israeli settlement construction and largely constrained it to a narrow segment of territory…. Israel is still constructing, but not in a way that will prevent a realistic peace settlement.
Israel to build 1,200 new homes in Jerusalem, West Bank
Housing minister announces plan, reportedly coordinated with US as tradeoff for prisoner releases; Lapid calls it a ‘double mistake’
Times of Israel
August 11, 2013
Israel’s housing minister has given final approval for the construction of 1,187 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, just three days before Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are set to resume in Jerusalem.
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) announced Sunday that 793 new apartments would be built in Jerusalem, and 394 in large settlement blocs in the West Bank.
“No country in the world takes orders from other countries where it can build and where it can’t,” Ariel said in his statement. “We will continue to market the homes, and to build in the entire country… This is the right thing at the present time, for Zionism and for the economy.”
Ariel has long been a vocal supporter of building across the Green Line, having previously served as secretary general of Amana, a settlement movement, and of the Yesha Council, an umbrella group of settlement municipalities.
Four hundred new units are set to be built in the Gilo neighborhood, 210 in Har Homa, and 183 in Pisgat Zeev neighborhoods of Jerusalem. In the West Bank, Efrat would receive 149 new apartments, Ariel 117, Maaleh Adumim 92, and Beitar 36.
The announcement of the new construction is an apparent tradeoff for Israel agreeing to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners in four installments over several months, with the first group of 26 to be freed Tuesday. A ministerial committee was set to convene on Sunday to identify those to be released first.
In November 2010, US President Barack Obama criticized Israeli plans to build hundreds of homes in Har Homa, but unlike in past years, this plan is not expected to draw a stern reaction from the United States. Maariv reported Sunday that this construction plan was presented to the US as part of a coordinated attempt to protect Netanyahu’s coalition while moving peace talks forward. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had long insisted he would not resume talks without an Israeli settlement freeze. In the end, he relented under intense US pressure.
Opposition head MK Shelly Yachimovitch (Labor) called the announcement a “poke in the eye” of Americans, Europeans, Palestinians, and peace-seeking Israelis, and said that Netanyahu needs to decide whether he heads a “government that strives for a political settlement or a government that strives to disrupt any possibility of such an agreement.”
“Although there is no practical meaning to the announcement,” she said, “it torpedoes the budding international recognition and support we have enjoyed because of the initiation of the talks.”
The dovish Peace Now activist group also criticized the announcement. “The promotion of over 1,000 housing units elucidates the importance of a settlement freeze and proves the government’s less than genuine intention to negotiate seriously,” the anti-settlement NGO said in a statement. “ A majority of these plans are outside the separation barrier, planned or built, and thus indicates there is no restraint on expansion into isolated areas.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) called the construction plan a “double mistake.” “The solutions to the housing problems must be enacted in the regions with high demands…The use of resources allocated for middle class housing as a show of defiance in the face of the Americans, in order to impede peace talks, is not helpful to the process.”
MK Zahava Gal-on (Meretz) was more forceful in her denunciation, calling the plan “an IED placed by the government in order to assassinate the political negotiations.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, up for re-election this fall, praised the development. “New building in Jerusalem is crucial for developing and strengthening the city and for allowing young residents to live and acquire an apartment there,” he said on his Facebook page. “I am pleased that Israel’s government sees eye-to-eye with us on this important need. We must continue to intensify building more and more housing units in all parts of the city and for all sectors, alongside continued economic, cultural, and educational development of Jerusalem.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Palestinian Authority.
However, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday charging that Israel’s latest settlement plans were an indication of “Israel’s bad faith and lack of seriousness” in the talks.
Erekat urged Kerry to “take the necessary action to ensure that Israel does not advance any of its settlement plans, and abides by its legal obligations and commitments.”
He said the Palestinians see the move as direct defiance of the US role in facilitating negotiations, adding that it was difficult to see how peace talks could move forward while settlements expand.
Erekat: No Settlement Freeze Means No Negotiations
Al-Monitor Israel Pulse
February 14, 2013
Israel is waiting for President Barack Obama. Social networks across the internet are full of petitions and “likes,” pleading with the president to give a speech about peace to the Israeli masses gathered in Rabin Square.
In contrast, apathy over Obama’s visit dominates the Palestinian street. No special preparations are underway, and there is a decided lack of excitement. Obama’s first visit to the Palestinian Authority? Who cares?
There are no plans to celebrate the presidential visit to Ramallah, because Obama isn’t considered objective. In fact, he is considered hostile. When it comes to Obama, the Palestinians are like large swathes of the Israeli public. They don’t really like him. They haven’t forgotten the part he played in the failure of Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen’s efforts to win recognition of Palestine’s full statehood at the United Nations (September 2011). But that’s not all. When Abu Mazen returned to the UN a year later with a watered-down proposal to recognize Palestine as an observer state, the president issued a veto yet again.
But this apathy is not just the result of Obama’s positions. It stems from a deep-seated belief among the Palestinians in particular and the Arab world in general that the United States is Israel’s patron, regardless of who happens to be sitting in the White House. They think it has always been like that, and it always will be.
For years Saeb Erekat held the title of Minister of Negotiations with Israel in the Palestinian Authority. It was a post he held even in the many years when there were no negotiations. He now explains in his own diplomatic way why the presidential visit isn’t really that exciting.
Why is that?
“Obama’s visit is most definitely an important event, but the president knows that the principle of ‘Two states for two people, based on the 1967 borders’ is a prerequisite for any talks. I hope he convinces Netanyahu to say that too. When Netanyahu talks about “two states” with saying what the borders will be, it’s as if he didn’t say anything.”
With a doctorate in peace studies from Bradford University in Britain, Erekat is certainly the most eloquent spokesman that the Palestinians have, especially when it comes to foreign affairs. His English is fluent, and his messages are straightforward, distinct, and binding. “There are no negotiations, nor will there be any negotiations as long as there is no freeze on settlement activity. Even Obama won’t get us to abandon this principle,” he says, emphasizing that, “It’s plain and simple: either the settlements or peace. We hope Obama convinces Netanyahu to stop all settlement activity so that we can negotiate.”
The Palestinian position is being stated loud and clear before the U.S. president visits our region and even before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forms his new government. The red line it establishes is so incontrovertible that it will be very difficult for the Palestinians to back away from it.
When a Palestinian leader like Erekat insists that there will be no negotiations as long as there is no freeze on construction in settlements, it really does seem as if even Obama could do nothing to change that. After all, the Palestinian Authority must make a show of strength, especially now, with Hamas breathing down Abu Mazen’s neck and with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal “getting the word out” that he would like to inherit Abu Mazen’s title.
The Palestinian demand that Netanyahu freeze construction in the settlements has only succeeded once before … so far. On Nov. 26, 2009, Netanyahu acceded to pressure by Obama and declared a freeze on construction in the settlements for a 10-month period. As head of a broad coalition, Netanyahu was at the pinnacle of his power and could allow himself to do this. Just one month before the freeze ended, in early September 2010, negotiations with Abu Mazen were restarted at a White House summit, in the presence of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan. Obama implored Netanyahu to extend the freeze by at least two months so as to give the talks another chance. Unable to withstand the pressure from the settlers, Netanyahu refused.
In a scathing editorial in The New York Times, senior columnist Thomas Friedman accused the Israeli prime minister of humiliating the American president, and added the following threat: “Don’t count on America to ride to the rescue. It has to start with you. My president is busy.” Now that the president has found the time to visit our region, this may be the right time for him to ride to the rescue.
What would happen if Obama says to Abu Mazen, “Let’s start the negotiations, and we’ll talk about freezing the settlements too”?
“What do you mean? We’ve been doing that for twenty years now. If you pour boiling water into a cup and add coffee, you won’t get orange juice. You’ll get coffee, and we drank that hundreds of times already. We don’t want a repeat of the exact same thing. We don’t want one cup of coffee after another.”
Still, don’t you feel that something in Israel has changed in the wake of the recent elections? It turned out that the Israeli right didn’t win a resounding majority.
“With all due respect to the Israeli elections, our demands for peace haven’t changed. They are still the 1967 borders and a halt on settlement activity.”
Don’t you feel any sense of change, even after Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid’s victory? I am well aware that you know him. You know the difference between him and HaBayit HaYehudi leader Naftali Bennett.
“I don’t want to get involved. Those are internal Israeli affairs. It doesn’t matter to us what coalition is formed.”
But didn’t you have even the slightest drop of hope when you heard the election results?
“It’s irrelevant. Really …”
And suddenly Erekat ended our conversation. He said a quick goodbye and hung up. I couldn’t understand why he was so upset. All I wanted was to know what the man responsible for negotiations (which haven’t taken place in years) feels about the possibility of negotiations in the future.
As it looks now, Obama will be visiting our region. He will be received with respect but also with suspicion, and then he will go back to his own pressing business. And then, all that will be left for us Israelis and Palestinians is another editorial by Thomas Friedman. It will probably say something along the lines of, “Guys, you’ll have to work it out yourselves. Obama is busy.”
Israel: Settlements no obstacle to a Palestinian nation
Special for USA TODAY
January 19, 2013
A Jewish city established 35 years ago in the Judean desert is being blamed for ruining any chance of peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Yet roots of conflict may run deeper.
JERUSALEM – Almost every item for sale in Talal Salman’s market has Hebrew lettering, even though the store is in Beit Safafa, an Arab community in Jerusalem.
Signs here are in Hebrew and Arabic, and its buildings of white stone and roads snarled with traffic make it largely indistinguishable from the Jewish communities in Israel’s capital.
“I have a lot of Jewish customers,” said Salman, an Arab father of three who speaks fluent Hebrew like most of the 7,500 residents of Beit Safafa.
Such co-existence appears unlikely just a few miles to the east, where a Jewish city established 35 years ago in the Judean desert is being blamed for ruining any chance of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
Ma’aleh Adumim was settled by Israelis on land that belongs to no sovereign nation. Four miles east of the Israeli capital of Jerusalem, it is in the narrow middle of territory between Jordan and Israel in the heart of the West Bank, a territory that 2.5 million Palestinian residents envision as a future state for themselves.
MAP: View the region
Some Palestinians say a decision by Israel to build 3,000 apartments on a barren, hilly 4.6-square-mile stretch that links Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem will cut their hoped-for nation in half at the middle.
Others see the construction plan as another example that Israel is unfairly picking off land the Palestinians hoped would be theirs. Next to Salman’s community of Beit Safafa, Israel is considering plans to build a largely Jewish neighborhood called Givat Hamatos that would be between Beit Safafa and the West Bank.
“Most people believe that even in the best scenario of a two-state outcome, a Palestinian state in the West Bank would still be in some form of Israeli occupation,” said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Palestine Center in Washington.
But Israel’s government says it is the Palestinians that are being unreasonable. Israel says the Palestinians have always known that strip of land labeled E1 on maps will be made part of Israel once borders for the two states are negotiated. And Israel has made clear that none of Jerusalem, the Jewish holy city, will be given away.
The Palestinians only have to end their refusal to sit down and negotiate with Israel over borders if they want their own country.
“Israel wants a two-state solution, but it can only be achieved through direct negotiations,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently.
The future of Israeli settlements has been a major campaign issue in the months leading up to Israel’s national election Tuesday. The campaign has been all the more controversial due to the emergence of a new right-wing party, Bayit Yehudi, which supports the annexation of large portions of the West Bank for Jewish settlements.
That’s putting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose traditional supporters appear to be attracted to Bayit Yehudi’s leader, Naftali Bennett, a former top aide to Netanyahu and elite army soldier whose parents are American immigrants to Israel.
To compete with Bayit Yehudi, Netanyahu “has had to make very strong statements on settlements,” said David Newman, a political scientist at Ben-Gurion University. “He’s already seen as fairly intransigent by many people on the settlement front, but in the last few weeks his Likud Party has (approved) more settlements because of the approaching election.”
A turf war as old as dirt
The origins of the settlement issue go back decades of wars, occupations and empires, and Israel and the Arab Palestinians continue to struggle with the matter of what should belong to whom.
The latest dispute arose last month when the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, asked for and received recognition as a non-member state from the United Nations. The move violated an agreement with Israel that the Palestinian representatives would first negotiate a treaty with Israel.
Palestinians say settlement activity is a violation of past agreements but Israel says no agreements prohibit occupation of disputed land in the absence of a peace treaty.
Netanyahu retaliated for the U.N. vote by announcing building plans for E1 rather than wait to discuss it in negotiations, and it was he, not the Palestinians, who was condemned by Arab and Western nations alike for acting before negotiating.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian legislative council, told USA TODAY that the move would “bisect the West Bank” and make it impossible for the Palestinians to have a unified state.
The problem “isn’t just E1, it’s the whole settlement process,” she said. “It’s stealing the Palestinian people’s lands and preventing the viability and contiguity of a Palestinian state.”
The district of Abu Dis illustrates the Palestinians’ complaint.
Salah Mohammed is a minivan driver in this small Palestinian town in the West Bank on the eastern outskirt of Jerusalem. Several times a day he takes passengers for the 10-mile ride from here to Ramallah, the administrative and commercial hub of the fledgling semi-state of Palestine in the West Bank.
Abu Dis is controlled jointly by Israel and the Palestinians, an arrangement meant to satisfy Israel’s security concerns until a pact over the town’s future is finalized in negotiations. Traffic and the Israeli roadblocks to check for terrorist movements turn the trip into a 40-minute drive.
“It could take a whole lot longer, we just don’t know,” Mohammed said of the prospect of the new apartments going up in E1, which is just to the north of Abu Dis.
Israelis say the Palestinians are exaggerating the effect of a small land claim that has always been known to them in previous talks. Connecting the 40,000 Jews in Ma’aleh Adumim to Israel proper will not cut the West Bank in two, say Israelis. Rather, it will merely make the West Bank as narrow at the waist that Israel is at its waist.
“It’s simply untrue,” said Efraim Inbar, a political scientist at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University. “Look at the map, and you can see they can build a road and connect Ramallah with Bethlehem.”
Foreign hands shaped dispute
The origins of the land dispute are in the defeat of the Ottomans, the Turkish empire that ruled all of Arabia and Egypt for four centuries until conquered in World War I.
The victorious powers of France, Britain and the United States cut up the empire into separate Arab kingdoms, creating new nations such as Iraq and Syria. But the land surrounded by Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, home to Jews and Arabs, presented a problem.
The Jews known as Zionists pressed the Western powers to make the remaining land a national state for the stateless Jewish people. The British government, which controlled the region, agreed.
In 1922, the British divided the region along the Jordan River — land to the east was named TransJordan, land to the west and to the Mediterranean was called Palestine. The British eventually handed TransJordan to an Arab monarchy but maintained control of Palestine.
In was not until after World War II, during which 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, that the world acted on the Jewish homeland. The United Nations approved the creation of Israel in two separate pieces. The rest of the land, including the West Bank, was for the Arabs. Jerusalem was designated an international city belonging to neither side.
Although the Jews agreed to the plan, the Arabs did not. In 1948, the armies of TransJordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt attacked. Israel beat them back and won control of land that connected its two separate pieces along the Mediterranean coast.
TransJordan, soon to be renamed Jordan, seized the West Bank and the eastern half of Jerusalem as its own, and destroyed Jewish homes that had existed for centuries. Israel stopped TransJordan from taking the western half of the city.
Things remained that way until 1967 when Egypt, Syria and Jordan aimed again to destroy the Jewish state. Israel went on the offensive and pushed the Arab armies off its borders. It bivouacked its military in Gaza and the Sinai desert in Egypt, the Golan Heights in Syria, the West Bank and all of Jerusalem.
Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in a peace deal and in 2005 withdrew from Gaza all of its troops and citizens who had moved into the territory. Jordan decided to withdraw any claim to the West Bank and Egypt did the same with Gaza.
The Arabs left in these lands have been left effectively stateless despite the U.N. vote granting the Palestinian Authority non-member status.
In the past three-and-a-half decades, Israeli governments approved the creation of Jewish towns or “settlements” in the West Bank on the theory that it was meant to have it or may need it to protect itself from an Arab population that refused to make peace.
Some settlements were built along the Israeli border and some several miles from it. To this day, the Israeli military polices roadways and maintains checkpoints in the West Bank to prevent terrorism while granting the Palestinians more power over their day-to-day affairs. At the same time, it made East and West Jerusalem its capital over objections from Palestinians, granting non-Jews living in the city a right of Israeli citizenship.
“The rate of Israeli settlement expansion has left it geographically and politically impossible to have a viable independent and contiguous Palestinian state,” Munayyer said.
Nowhere is that more true than with E1, he says. He says the E1 plans would frustrate Palestinian desire for “a shared Jerusalem,” in which the Palestinians would make East Jerusalem their capital. It would also make it difficult for Palestinians to travel north and south, because E1 bulges across the narrowest portion of the hoped-for Palestinian state.
Michael Rubin, an analyst at the hawkish American Enterprise Institute, said the Palestinians will not be blocked from their own state by E1. After all, Israel is just as small at its narrowest point, and Israelis routinely travel around the bulge of the Palestinian West Bank to go from north to south.
“No matter what the solution is, you’re going to have crisscrossing tunnels and non-intersecting highways,” Rubin said. “That’s the reality of nation states in the 21st century.”
Netanyahu said that Israel must make its largest West Bank settlements part of Israel proper and that he will swap vacant land to make up for it. Even his Israeli opponents concede it is not conceivable that Israel would uproot and relocate 350,000 Jews in cities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as some Palestinian leaders have demanded be done.
Munayyer said tunnels and bridges won’t bring independence because Palestinians would still be at the mercy of Israel, which could shut down the thruways if it wished.
“How can a state be independent and contiguous if it depends on another state for its contiguity?” Munayyer asked.
Danny Danon, deputy speaker in the Israeli parliament, who opposes a Palestinian state in the West Bank, agrees that if one is created, Israel would be able to step in and halt freedom of movement for “security concerns.”
When Jordan ruled the West Bank from 1948 to 1967 it prevented Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, a remnant of the wall that surrounded the courtyard of the temple. It destroyed dozens of synagogues, and threatened Israel’s very survival. That cannot happen again, Inbar said.
“Unless Jerusalem is linked to Ma’aleh Adumin, and Maaleh Adumim to the Jordan Valley, the country will not have a defensible border,” Inbar said.
Israel tried exchanging land for peace with Gaza, and since 2007 Hamas has launched more than 12,000 rockets into Israel from the territory in its stated goal to wipe out the Jewish state.
Were Israel to withdraw its settlements from the West Bank, Netanyahu said, “the result, of course, will be a Gaza on the outskirts” of Israel’s major Israeli cities.
Not all Israelis see it that way. Hagit Ofran, who monitors Israeli settlements for Peace Now, an organization that promotes territorial compromise, said E1 is meant to prevent a Palestinian state.
“It will not be possible to create a Palestinian corridor from the north to the south,” Ofran said.
Back in Beit Safafa, a cold rain was falling outside the market of Talal Salman.
“I’m going to say something a little extreme: Peace won’t come here. All I want is quiet.”
Contributing: Oren Dorell in Washington