The Israeli government’s plan to build more than four thousand additional units at settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is not only an unnecessary provocation. More seriously, it is a serious impediment to the peace process, one that may ultimately doom it to failure.
Israel granted final permits to build more than 1,500 units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the pre-1967 lines and in various communities in the large settlement blocks. Also planned are 2,000 units in settlements beyond the security barriers.
Settlement construction activities have repeatedly been criticized by the international community, that has alerted that these actions not only are illegal under international law but threaten the viability of a two-state solution. In November of 2009, President Barak Obama had stated that settlement construction complicated efforts by his administration to relaunch peace talks and embittered the Palestinians.
The Ma’ariv newspaper had stated that the new settlement construction is part of a deal struck between Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, to persuade him to remain in the government coalition. That the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered occupied territories under international law didn’t seem to faze them. What makes settlement construction such a serious obstacle to peace is that their presence threatens the possibility of a contiguous future Palestinian state.
Citing continued Israeli construction in the West Bank two Palestinian negotiators, Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh submitted their resignations to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who initially refused them. While some Israeli sources consider these resignations as publicity stunt aimed to grab US Secretary of State John Kerry’s attention, it probably reflects the Palestinians’ frustration over the lack of progress in the peace negotiations.
According to some observers, Netanyahu reached an agreement with John Kerry that every time there would be a release of Palestinian prisoners there would also be an announcement of new settlement construction plans. That would make it easier for some coalition members to accept the prisoners’ release. Israel still holds approximately 5,000 Palestinian prisoners.
There is not, however, widespread approval for the conditions of the exchange. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett came out strongly against this exchange stating that, “the attempt to link the release of the murderers to construction tenders is manipulative and morally wrong. It will be better if the prime minister does not release murderers and does not build. This looks like a despicable attempt to free murderers and tarnish the settlement enterprise.”
On October 31, 2013, the Palestinian Authority announced that it was “seriously studying” filing complaints against Israel with international courts and forums to halt construction in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The PA Foreign Ministry called on the international community to take actions to end the planned new constructions.
Many Palestinians see Israel’s settlement authorization as repeated obstacles to make peace talks fail, notes Dalia Hatuga, a Ramallah-based journalist. When Vice President Joe Biden visited the region three years ago Israel announced the approval of 1,000 settlement units. A year later, as Shimon Peres met with President Barak Obama, Israeli authorities approved plans to expand settlements in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank.
The last announcement of settlement construction comes just ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry aimed at reenergizing the peace process. “There is no doubt…that the settlements have disturbed people’s perception of whether or not people are serious and are moving in the right direction,” he admitted recently.
Mohammed Shtayyeh stated last September, “Israel continues to use peace negotiations as a smoke screen for more settlement construction. The Israelis are the only ones imposing conditions: to negotiate with settlement construction, creating new conditions on the ground in order to pre-empt the result of any negotiations.”
Claiming to want peace while taking actions that are paramount to blocking the peace process are incompatible propositions. By agreeing with those actions the US government becomes complicit with a policy that will only lead to more instability and suffering in the region.