Bringing you the issues since 1986

View Online Print Edition


Editorial: Mideast peace process takes a turn

October, 2010

Israel and the Palestinians are once again making headlines — thankfully not because they are shooting at each other — over pre-conditions to the start of face-to-face peace talks.

The issue holding up talks between the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, is Israel’s refusal to renew a 60-day freeze on Jewish settlement building on West Bank land captured in 1967. Abbas has threatened to walk away unless the freeze is renewed.

On the surface, it appears disingenuous of an Israeli government that professes a commitment to a final settlement and two-state solution to this multi-generational 62-year conflict for Jewish settlements to expand on land that in principle will be part of the Palestinian Arab homeland.

The optics of Israeli building on land that in general will be part of a final settlement are at least counter-productive, at worst a signal of non-belief in a viable peace, at best a bargaining ploy. There are those who say that if there is room in Israel for Muslim and Christian Arabs, there should be a Jewish presence in this new state.

Complacency has set in among Israelis about the status quo, where military supremacy and the efficiency of its counter insurgency machine ensure lack of open conflict and few barriers to expansion. For many Israelis and supporters, there is little chance of peace unless Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world accept as fact a Jewish state in the heart of and Arab- and Muslim-dominated area stretching from Morocco to the Iranian border.

In addition, the rise of Hamas, and its rain of rockets from Gaza on civilian targets within Israel after the unilateral withdrawal of 8,000 Israelis from settlements there, has persuaded many Israelis that a similar development inevitably will follow the creation of a Palestinian state. The fear is not illegitimate, given the threatening probable border with that state and the barrier that lines much of it.

Revanchist impulses will not fade away among those who cannot accept history – Arab elites’ refusal of the 1947 partition of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and the ensuing war in which Israeli forces ended up with a larger territory.

The U.S. administration is applying heavy pressure on Israel to extend the freeze. It has reportedly promised to supply new and advanced military equipment, unspecified measures to prevent the smuggling of weapons to a Palestinian state, and support for an Israeli military presence in the Jordan River valley to police such activities. The U.S. is also reported to have a backup plan should the talks collapse: It would declare support for the 1967 Green Line as a baseline for negotiations of the Palestinian state’s borders, with some land swaps.

The tradeoff is for Palestinians to abandon the right of return of refugees and their descendants displaced by the 1948 and 1967 wars to their former homes. In return, the Palestinians would insist on some sovereignty over east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, home of the Al Aqsa mosque. (Israelis have insisted on the right to explore the area underground, where remnants of the biblical temple of Solomon may be unearthed.)

Netanyahu’s position may be posturing or hard bargaining. However, it shines a light on the now seemingly intractable issue of the estimated 300,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements – out of a population approaching 8 million – among 2.5 million Palestinians. Another 200,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem. The Israeli position is that there are competing claims based on historic settlements in parts of the West Bank and that their status should be part of the negotiations. However, in the eyes of much of the world, continued expansion as the talks are to go forward sends a hard-line message of intractability that can only discourage belief in the will to compromise.

Understanding Israeli security concerns, we believe the Netanyahu government is sending a significant negative message to the Palestinians and the world by refusing to extend the freeze on settlement construction. Support for settlement expansion is counter-productive, as it does not inspire confidence in Israel’s sincerity on painful concessions that will have to be made on both sides if the peace process is to have any chance of moving forward.



Post a Comment