Commentary

Israel Approves New Settlements Despite Push for Peace Talks

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

News of the approval of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank has angered many in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the wider region. With the French leading a push for renewed talks, the new construction appears to many regional observers to be designed to prevent the resurrection of the peace process. Meanwhile, reports indicate that the Israeli opposition party, the Zionist Union, met with the Palestinian Authority prior to the last election and outlined a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders, though it is unlikely that the Israeli public at large would have accepted it. Nevertheless, there is a growing sense, even in Israeli media, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right-wing are working on borrowed time, and that sooner or later the tide of public opinion in the West will turn irreversibly against the Occupation, leaving Israel isolated. In the meantime, European Union officials are making sure to provide enough incentives for all concerned parties to attend the French peace talks, and Arab League officials have warned that they are not willing to go beyond the proposals of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

The Palestinian Authority has reacted with anger to the settlement approval, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa ,arguing that the expansion, coupled with the recently passed Investment Promotion Law, signals a new stage in Israel’s annexation of the Occupied Territories: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, in a statement Monday, that Israel’s recent approval to disburse $21.3m in aid to illegal settlements in the West Bank means that Israel practically started to annex the settlements. It said that, for instance, Israel’s enforcement of the Investment Promotion Law in the West Bank settlements, which was recently approved, allows the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to finance the construction of major tourism projects there, thus dealing with the settlements as Israeli cities. The statement came after the Israeli government, in its weekly meeting on Sunday, approved an additional 82 million shekels (about $21.3m) of aid to illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.”

The Gulf Today editorial highlights Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long track record of settlement construction, characterizing the Occupation as “the longest violation of human rights in history”: “The latest move goes to show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, known to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history, is interested only in expansionism and pandering to the racist settler population. All settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land is considered illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to peace....Provocation is the name of the game Israel has mastered. All its actions only go to show that it is doing everything possible to sabotage every effort to achieve a just and lasting peace. As the Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the United Nations, Ambassador Faisal Trad, stressed this week, it’s high time the international community put an end to the longest violation of human rights in history: the violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people, which are the result of racist practices by Israel.”

The Peninsula editorial argues that the most recent settlement expansion signals the death of the peace process, but warns that Western public opinion is turning against Israel, making Tel Aviv’s policies unsustainable in the long run: “The right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken another brazen and reckless step towards expanding the illegal settlements in the West Bank.... The peace process is dead, and even the latest Paris initiative to restart the negotiations is gasping for breath due to Israeli opposition and non-cooperation...But Netanyahu is dangerously wrong if he thinks Israel can sleep in peace after all these atrocities. The global opinion, especially in the West, is tilting against the Jewish state and in favor of Palestinians, with several Jewish columnists and experts warning Netanyahu against the repercussions of his recklessness. The BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel is gaining momentum in the West. Even in America, there is a growing realization that Israel is the aggressor and Palestinians their victims.”

The sense of a rising tide in sentiment against the Occupation is also felt within Israel, with Israeli business daily Globe’s Norman Bailey recommending that Israel prepare to exist without the support of the United States: “Political and economic conditions in the U.S. portend a permanent cooling towards Israel, and Israel has to adjust....Although at present support or Israel continues to command a majority among the American people and their Congress, nothing can be taken for granted. None of the three remaining candidates for president in the November elections is a particularly strong supporter of Israel, and the first Jew to win a political primary in the U.S., Senator Bernie Sanders, has just named three anti-Israel delegates to the Democratic Convention Platform Committee. Support for Israel in the American Jewish community is rapidly weakening....In the international ratings, Israel, small as it is, already ranks among the world's leaders in both economic and military terms. It will soon have to live up to its potential in diplomatic terms as well.”

Yedioth Ahronoth’s Smadar Perry captures some of the angst within Israel with regards to the current and future political and diplomatic options for Israel, recommending that Israel should be prepared for painful but needed concessions in return for a peaceful resolution of the conflict: “[An] option is to watch how everyone else starts working together behind our backs, coming to mutual understandings without us being privy to the details, and all the while declaring that Israel will never adhere to outside commands. Or, we could take a look at the Arab peace plan, think a few steps forward and get to work....teams from the Israeli Peace Initiative are speaking with those on the other side of this issue to prepare an economic plan, touch upon the sensitive matter of the Right of Return, discuss land swaps and try to agree on a road map that progresses through a system of price and reward. If we're being honest again, no one is guaranteeing us we'll be getting everything we want. The same goes for the other side. The road ahead is long and arduous, but at least we're all out of excuses.”

According to a Jerusalem Post report by Daniel Eisenbud and Lahav Harkov, it appears that while Mr. Netanyahu may not be prepared to offer concessions to the Palestinians, Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog may have done just that in pre-election negotiations, although judging from the reaction across the political spectrum, it is not evident that Mr. Herzog reflects a majority view: “Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition, held extensive talks with high-ranking PA officials prior to last year’s election to propose conceding 100% of the pre-1967 territories and declaring east Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, his spokesman confirmed on Monday....In response to the revelation, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid told a faction meeting that the negotiations were ‘dangerous’ and ‘wrong’, adding that Jerusalem must not be divided. 'The Left can’t negotiate as long as there’s a government in Jerusalem,’ he added. Education Minister Naftali Bennett echoed Lapid’s sentiments, stating that Herzog cannot negotiate what is not his, and compared the negotiations with the PA as akin to attempting to sell the Brooklyn Bridge. ‘No Jew or Jewish body has the authority — or even the whole Jewish people — to give up any part of the land,’ he said quoting from Ben-Gurion.”

A Zionist Union peace plan might have been welcomed in Brussels, where, according to Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren, European Union foreign ministers are meeting to find ways to nudge the Israelis and Palestinians to support proposed talks in Paris: “Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council specifically mentions ‘economic incentives,’ invoking the EU’s 2013 offer of an ‘unprecedented package of political, economic and security support to be offered to and developed with both parties in the context of a final status agreement.’...The EU’s foreign ministers also unanimously endorsed the French peace initiative, which started with a conference in Paris earlier this month. Israel flatly rejected the French move, arguing that it hardens Palestinian negotiation positions and thus pushes off peace.”

While the French and others are making attempts to resurrect peace negotiations, Ma’an News reports that Arab League leaders are warning that they will not water down the Arab Peace Initiative: “Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi said Saturday that the group would reject any amendments to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API). Al-Arabi said in a statement that he made clear in his speech on Friday at the international summit held in Paris to support the French-led peace initiative that the Arab League would not accept any modifications to the API....Israel has continued to reiterate its rejection to the French-led peace initiative, with Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Dore Gold suggesting Friday that the conference represented a form of colonialism, while reiterating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sentiments that only direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) would be supported by Israel....Israel claimed the process failed because the Palestinians refused to accept a US framework document outlining the way forward, while Palestinians pointed to Israel's ongoing settlement building and the government's refusal to release veteran prisoners.”


Click here to read previous installments of Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.