PLO official Saeb Erekat said Tuesday that the US had not officially informed the Palestinian leadership of any proposal to partially freeze settlement building.If accurate, this would be good news--because it would mean that instead of pursuing his failed policy that led to the breakdown in peace talks, Obama is now pursuing the policy he should have established in the first place: incorporating the policy already established by Bush and agreed to by Ariel Sharon.
The Hebrew-language daily Maariv reported Tuesday that the US had made an offer to the Israeli government and the PA suggesting Israel halt the construction of new neighborhoods but could continue building in existing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, apparently to cope with natural growth.
Elliot Abrams is quick to point out that by initiating this idea, Obama is following Bush's lead in a deal that Obama denied existed in the first place
If this is a good idea, a decent compromise, one can only wonder why it took the Obama White House nearly three years to get there. For this policy was precisely what the Bush Administration agreed with prime ministers Sharon and Olmert.In July Obama followed the Bush agreement that there would be settlement blocs retained by Israel in any future peace deal--in acknowledgement of facts on the ground. Now it appears that Obama is also accepting the understanding Bush had with Sharon that enlargement of homes would be allowed, short of the building of new settlements.
In the early months of the Obama Administration, officials flatly denied such a deal had ever existed. In June, 2009 I wrote about this Obama error in the Wall Street Journal.
And error it was: in December 2003, prime minister Sharon stated that “Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line….” Had the Obama Administration realized the value of what had been achieved by its predecessors and continued the policy, we would not have endured nearly three years without any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Nor would the administration have tried instead to impose a total construction freeze, a condition that no Israeli government could meet and that thus created a new and insuperable obstacle to negotiations.[emphasis added]
Steven Rosen already wrote back in January 2009 about Obama and a Settlements Freeze:
The Obama Administration has decided that it will accept the Bush commitment of April 14, 2004, but not yet whether it will accept these implications of the agreement. If it does not, it will be at odds not only with the Likud, but also with Kadima and Labor. It is difficult to imagine any Government of Israel agreeing, for example, to freeze all construction and natural growth inside a community like Ma'ale Adumim, a huge bedroom suburb of Jerusalem ten minutes away, with a population of 33,000, established by a Labor government more than thirty years ago.Nice to see that 2 1/2 years, Obama finally came around.
The third distinction that Israelis make about a settlement freeze, on which the Obama team will need to decide its position, is about the kind of "freeze on natural gowth" that is to be imposed on the settlements that are outside the blocs and outside East Jerusalem. The Sharon and Olmert governments were willing to ban outward geographic expansion of these established settlements, but they reserved the right to continue what Shimon Peres dubbed "vertical growth," meaning upward or infill expansion inside the existing "construction line" of established houses. If outward horizontal expansion affects the Palestinians and gives the impression of "creeping annexation", vertical growth has much less impact. As a condition for an agreement to curtail "natural growth," Israel wants to retain the freedom to permit communities to add a room or build between existing houses, as long as there is no outward expansion of the settlement.
Bottom line, Abrams writes that:
these terms are sensible: as long as there is construction only within built-up areas, there is no harm to Palestinians, no use of additional land, and no additional burden in future negotiations.Abrams also writes that the Palestinian Arabs will reject Obama's new policy.
But that is par for the course.
Technorati Tag: Israel and Israeli Settlements and Obama.