Why a settlement freeze matters

by Yaniv Reich on November 1, 2009

Israel appears to have successfully called the Americans’ bluff. Hillary Clinton circa May 2009 was demanding an immediate freeze to all settlement activity. Clinton circa October 2009 now thinks that a settlement freeze shouldn’t be a precondition for peace talks. She even thinks the non-action Netanyahu is yapping about, e.g. temporarily suspending work on new projects other than the 3,000 units (!!!) currently being developed, reflects an “unprecedented” position. This is cowardice of the highest order.

Israeli critics of the settlement project are also furious. For example, Akiva Eldar writes:

U.S. generals, and even Israeli ones, have confirmed that the Palestinians have fulfilled the precondition set for them. It’s hard to find anyone who will say this about the Israelis. If, God forbid, buses were to start blowing up in Jerusalem again, Netanyahu would not be seen near any Palestinian leader. He wrote in his book that it is forbidden under any circumstances to negotiate with terrorists. But to build during negotiations on land that the entire world claims is not yours – that’s something else.

As could be expected, the Palestinians are also not too happy about this most recent development.

Why do the Palestinians care so much about a settlement freeze? Shouldn’t they just start negotiating with the Israelis and work on this issues in the course of those talks?

A settlement freeze matters because of history: the Palestinians have been betrayed and their national aspirations undermined by this exact ploy in the past. The period of time from the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 until the collapse of peace talks in 2000 saw the number of settlers in occupied Palestine almost double from about 100,000 people to 200,000 people.

Settler Population Growth
(Source: Peace Now. Excludes East Jerusalem, where another 250,000 settlers or so live.)

Every minute of the ongoing negotiations for a Palestinian state saw Israel undermining the territorial contiguity of that state. Rabin, Peres, and Arafat were shaking hands and winning the Nobel Peace Prize and Israel was continuously transferring tens of thousands of its civilians onto what was ostensibly to become Palestine.

Israel has a long history of using settlements to prevent peace. Its intransigence on settlements must be condemned and overturned, not lauded as “unprecedented” in the “sucking up” language that Clinton used today.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 saifedean November 2, 2009 at 8:47 am

Well put.

The settlements are truly the most critical issue at this point. Everything else you hear discussed is simply fluff, rhetoric and downright bullshit. So long as Israel is building settlements, then there is no peace process. It’s that simple, and no amount of American politicians waffling on about hope, change and other meaningless abstract nouns changes this.

I’d written something about this a couple of years ago (remember Annapolis?) that is still very pertinent: http://3quarksdaily.blogs.com/3quarksdaily/2007/12/the-peace-proce.html

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