A guide to the Settlement Question
The Foundation for Middle East Peace has long kept a watching brief on the question of Israel Settlements in the Occupied Territories. It produces a bimonthly report on the subject.
The May – June 2009 Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories is now available. In the context of President Obama’s possible reframing of US Middle-Eastern policy, this issue contains a helpful overview entitled Settlement Freeze Redux by Geoffrey Aronson:
Israel’s ever-expanding network of civilian settlements in the occupied territories is viewed by its partisans and opponents alike as the most significant obstacle to the creation of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state. Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas is conditioning a renewal of discussions with Israel on an Israeli commitment to freeze all settlement, echoing a demand originally made in 1992 during the pre-Oslo Washington talks
“We consider settlements to be a central issue,” explained Palestinian delegation leader Haidar Abdel Shafi in a January 1992 memorandum, “and if there is no cessation of the settlement process, that practically means there is no peace process.
An Israeli commitment to a settlement moratorium is viewed by proponents as a necessary demonstration of good faith toward a diplomatic process leading to an end to occupation and the creation of secure and recognized boundaries for two states—Israel and Palestine. Yet, for more than three decades, on again off again promotion of a settlement freeze by the U.S. has failed to slow settlement expansion, thereby undermining the credibility of U.S. diplomacy. More often than not, attempts to establish a freeze resulted in U.S. support for settlement expansion, most notably the Clinton administration’s endorsement of the “natural growth” of settlements.
Settlements must be evacuated as part of a final status plan that establishes Palestinian sovereignty and enhances Israeli security, but to do so will require a degree of commitment—not to a freeze in settlements but to their removal—that neither Israel nor the international community has yet been able or willing to muster.
The administration of President Barack Obama is considering resurrecting the freeze idea as a key element of its policy. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled his opposition, noting that, “if Israelis cannot build houses in the West Bank, Palestinians do not need to build either.”…