Facing an election in which his most dangerous competition is from the far right, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has adopted a familiar tactic: a flurry of announcements of new construction in Jewish settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The predictable result has been a storm of denunciations by the United States and every other member of the U.N. Security Council, along with dire predictions that the new building would “make a negotiated two-state solution . . . very difficult to achieve,” as British Foreign Secretary William Hague put it.The Washington Post's support for Israel in general and Netanyahu in particular -- to the degree that Israel's building homes is not condemned out of hand -- is unexpected, and welcome.
The criticism is appropriate, in the sense that such unilateral action by Israel, like the unilateral Palestinian initiative to seek statehood recognition in November from the U.N. General Assembly, serves to complicate the negotiations that are the only realistic route to a Middle East peace. But the reaction is also counterproductive because it reinforces two mistaken but widely held notions: that the settlements are the principal obstacle to a deal and that further construction will make a Palestinian state impossible.
A key part of the Washington Post editorial is the admission of a point that is often looked by those who blindly condemn the Israeli settlements -- the fact that there are parts of the settlements that the Palestinian Arab negotiators have agreed will remain part of Israel in the event of the creation of a "Palestinian" state:
Twenty-five years ago, Israel’s government openly aimed at building West Bank settlements that would block a Palestinian state. But that policy changed following the 1993 Oslo accords. Mr. Netanyahu’s government, like several before it, has limited building almost entirely to areas that both sides expect Israel to annex through territorial swaps in an eventual settlement. For example, the Jerusalem neighborhoods where new construction was announced last month were conceded to Israel by Palestinian negotiators in 2008.The editorial concludes with 2 key points:
Overall, the vast majority of the nearly 500,000 settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank live in areas close to Israel’s 1967 borders. Data compiled by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace show that more than 80 percent of them could be included in Israel if the country annexed just more than 4 percent of the West Bank — less than the 5 percent proposed by President Bill Clinton 12 years ago.
- The exaggerated rhetoric used in attacking Israeli settlements comes at a time when the the numbers of those slaughtered by the Assad regime are skyrocketing -- and the UN Security Council is not taking action, demonstrating an odd sense of priorities.
- Abbas has implied that following the UN General Assembly vote on statehood, he would stop insisting on a settlement freeze -- something the UN Security Council should press Abbas on doing, so that he now longer uses the settlements as an excuse for his failure during almost 4 years to negotiate with Israel.
The question now is whether anyone in the Obama administration is listening.
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