Monday, June 29, 2009

Washington Post: Forget About The Settlement Freeze

The Washington Post has come out--strongly--against the freezing of Israeli settlements. Interestingly, legal reasons are not mentioned. Instead, Jackson Diehl attacks the US insistence on a freeze based on pragmatic reasons. Bottom line, the idea is a loser:
This absolutist position is a loser for three reasons. First, it has allowed Palestinian and Arab leaders to withhold the steps they were asked for; they claim to be waiting for the settlement "freeze" even as they quietly savor a rare public battle between Israel and the United States. Second, the administration's objective -- whatever its merits -- is unobtainable. No Israeli government has ever agreed to an unconditional freeze, and no coalition could be assembled from the current parliament to impose one.

Finally, the extraction of a freeze from Netanyahu is, as a practical matter, unnecessary. While further settlement expansion needs to be curbed, both the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have gone along with previous U.S.-Israeli deals by which construction was to be limited to inside the periphery of settlements near Israel -- since everyone knows those areas will be annexed to Israel in a final settlement. Before the 2007 Annapolis peace conference organized by the Bush administration, Saudi Arabia and other Arab participants agreed to what one former senior official called "the Google Earth test"; if the settlements did not visibly expand, that was good enough.
According to Diehl, the policy made sense at first in order to establish believability with the Arab world by applying pressure on Israel. But having done that, there is nothing to gain by continuing to push the issue--and the crisis in Iran is Obama's opportunity to move away from that issue. Even if, instead of dropping the issue altogether, some sort of compromise is reached with Netanyahu, Obama now risks looking like he caved.

Diehl concludes:
The best course nevertheless lies in striking a quick deal with the left-leaning Barak this week under cover of the tumult in Tehran. The administration could then return to doing what it intended to do all along: press Palestinians as well as Israelis, friendly Arab governments and not-so-friendly Iranian clients such as Syria to take tangible steps toward a regional settlement. Such movement would be the perfect complement to the cause of change in Iran; how foolish it would be to squander it over a handful of Israeli apartment houses.
Read the whole thing.

Of course, whether Obama intended all along to press Abbas and the PA as well remains to be seen. Diehl himself makes mention of "the disarray of the Palestinian camp." But the fact remains that this editorial is important for taking a stand against Obama.

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