Eye on Middle East Nov/Dec 2009

The Financial Times headline read, “US Attacks Israel Over West Bank Settlements.” Startling on the surface, the article merely confirmed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruffled some feathers when he announced in September he would go ahead with construction of new housing units in Israel’s West Bank communities (Judea and Samaria). The units do not expand existing settlements and are permitted for what is termed natural growth.

However, the White House issued a press release condemning Netanyahu’s plan:

We regret the reports of Israel’s plans to approve additional settlement construction. Continued settlement activity is inconsistent with Israel’s commitment under the road-map. As the President has said before, the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop.

Kurt Hoyer, spokesman for the U.S.Embassy in Tel Aviv, said Washington would be unlikely to accept anything “contrary to the spirit of negotiations they’ve been undertaking.” The majority of Israelis and their friends abroad take a very different view of the “spirit of negotiations,” which seems like nothing more than another attempt to force Israel to surrender its legitimate rights.

Netanyahu’s announcement generated harsh reactions throughout the news media. The Times Online was representative of them as it pointed to “U.S. fury” over Israel’s “defiance” of the President’s demands. Cooler heads, however, stepped back to assess the parties that are sharing angst over Israel’s decision. The European Union’s anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian breast-beating was predictable. European Israel-bashing is always in vogue. What should give pause is the hand-holding between Washington and intransigent Palestinians who join forces in lamenting the fact that Israel agreed to put a few roofs over the heads of its families.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat joined America in blasting the Netanyahu plan. “The only thing suspended by this announcement will be the peace process,” he fumed, adding, “This is absolutely unacceptable,” as he accused Israel of responding to U.S. demands “with total defiance.”

There are at least two issues here that Israel’s ostensible allies should be astute enough to pick up on. First, the settlement freeze is a phony issue. The legally established communities linked to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria will remain in place even with the advent of a Palestinian state. Therefore, expansion within those communities to make room for natural growth is a given. If the Palestinians are serious about peace, the settlement issue is a minute sidebar to the essentials of peacemaking.

Second, should the United States and its European collaborators force Israel to give in on the settlement situation, nothing will change. The Palestinians probably will then say something like, “A token, but not enough. We demand more.” That demand will most likely be followed by proclamations demanding all settlements be removed. The controversy is but a blip on the screen; Israel’s acquiescence will never bring peace or hugs and kisses and recognition from the Arab-Muslim world.

The persistent problem is that Western wishful thinkers never seem to get the point. Caving in to the demands of implacable enemies is never the way to play the game. An instructive example is the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, yet the U.S. Embassy is not in Jerusalem but in Tel Aviv. In fact, Israel remains the only country on Earth not allowed to choose its capital city and the rightful place for all international embassies. And though the ground is free of obstructions and not located in a disputed area, U.S. president after president has employed executive delays to defy congressional legislation to move the Embassy. Why? Because of the fear that moving it to Jerusalem will offend the Palestinians and our “friends” in the Arab world.

The hardest lesson of all may be to learn to do the right thing. So far, that road to peace has escaped our peacemakers.

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