Settlement Construction Is No Obstacle to Peace

“There are realities within life in Israel that also have to be taken into account here.”

— by Steve Sheffey

Israel’s announcement of new construction, in settlements beyond the 1967 cease-fire line with Jordan, is not an obstacle to peace. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas knew about it in advance, and it did not scuttle the peace talks. Significantly, and in contrast to previous administrations, the Obama administration has taken no action to force Israel to reverse this announcement, even though the Obama administration’s position on settlements is the same as previous administrations.

Every administration since the Six Day War has opposed and condemned Israeli settlement construction. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week, “The policy of the United States of America with respect to all settlements is that they are illegitimate, and we oppose settlements taking place at any time, not just the time of the peace process.”

More after the jump.
So what was Kerry’s reaction when Israel announced new settlement construction as peace talks were beginning? Did he strike Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with lightning? Did he cut aid to Israel? Did he demand that Israel rescind the construction plans? No. In the same press conference where he reiterated U.S. policy on settlements, Kerry said:

Prime Minister Netanyahu was completely upfront with me and with President Abbas that he would be announcing some additional building that would take place in places that will not affect the peace map, that will not have any impact on the capacity to have a peace agreement. That means that it is building within the so-called blocs in areas that many people make a presumption — obviously not some Palestinians or others — will be part of Israel in the future. He has specifically agreed not to disturb what might be the potential for peace going forward.

Now, we still believe it would be better not to be doing it, but there are realities within life in Israel that also have to be taken into account here going forward. President Abbas understood that coming into these talks. That’s why these talks are pressed into this time period of nine months. That’s why we all understand there is urgency, as I said yesterday, to getting to the discussion of borders and security. If you resolve the borders of Israel — and you can only do that also resolving the security issues for Israel — you have resolved any questions about settlements, because then you know what is in Israel and what is not.

In other words, the U.S. opposes settlement construction, but it understands that Netanyahu faces internal political pressure of his own, and has to do what he has to do. If that is pressure, I wish that the Bush and Reagan administrations had applied similar pressure.

Why did Israel announce new construction in disputed areas? Some have suggested, with no evidence, that maybe there was a quid pro quo, that in return for releasing Arab prisoners, Israel was allowed to announce new settlements. Such a belief has no basis in reality, and suggests that Benjamin Netanyahu would release terrorists in exchange for housing starts. The idea is absurd. The two have nothing to do with each other.

Others have suggested that Israel’s announcement shows that it is not serious about peace, or is trying to undercut the process as it gets underway. Read again what Kerry said. Abbas and Kerry knew in advance that this was coming, and indeed, the peace talks were not derailed by this announcement.

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