The PJ Tatler

Obama's Obsessional Focus on 'Settlements'

In a stellar demolition of the anti-democratic and ill-conceived Obama administration insistence that Israel stop building on its own territory, including in its own capital city, Elliott Abrams, writing in the July-August 2011 issue of  Foreign Affairs, in a book review entitled “The Settlement Obsession” makes these salient points (emphasis added):

“On taking office in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama put Israeli settlements at the center of U.S. policy in the Middle East. In Washington’s view, a complete construction freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem became not only desirable but also a prerequisite to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Previous U.S. administrations of both parties had never taken such a stance, and in fact, there had been years of negotiations (not least at Camp David in 2000 and after the Annapolis meeting in 2007) while Israeli settlement activity continued. But the Obama administration stuck to its demand, and when Israel refused to freeze construction, 2009 and much of 2010 went by without negotiations. This only changed in November 2010, when the White House abandoned the entire approach and began to search for a new one.

“This single-minded focus on a construction freeze was clearly a mistake in the sense that it failed: the Israeli government did not agree to a freeze in East Jerusalem. Nor could any earlier Israeli governments have accepted such a demand, even if they, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had been open to partial or time-limited freezes in the West Bank. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed the situation well when he said in April 2011, “I was opposed to the prolonged effort on the settlements in a public way because I never thought it would work and, in fact, we have wasted a year and a half on something that for a number of reasons was not achievable.” What is more, the Obama administration’s demand had the effect of cornering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who could not ask for less than Washington; if the U.S. president thought a total freeze was a prerequisite to negotiations, Abbas would have to think so, too. As a weary Abbas told Newsweek in April, the Obama administration led him up a tree and then ‘removed the ladder.’

But the tactic also was a mistake in a deeper sense: current construction in the settlements is not a critical issue, and the expansion of construction into additional lands has been minimal. At Camp David in 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat 94 percent of the West Bank; ten years later, Ehud Olmert offered Abbas 93.6 percent with a one-to-one land swap. So it is clear that settlement expansion has not significantly eaten away at the territory of an eventual Palestinian state. The far more serious issues are wholly outside the short-term question of a freeze: namely, the future of the settlements if and when a Palestinian state is created, their impact on the maneuvering that will advance or impede that objective, and the conflict between the settlers’ ideology and that of mainstream Zionism.”

Memo to POTUS, the Secretary of State, and all who wish to see a two-state solution: this article is must reading.