News / Middle East

    Column: Israel's Settlement Push Damages Peace Chances

    Children climb on a playground in a Jewish settlement in the Etzion settlement bloc, near Bethlehem.
    Children climb on a playground in a Jewish settlement in the Etzion settlement bloc, near Bethlehem.

    Barely a week after reaching a semi-durable cease-fire in a seven-week war that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and prompted virulent new expressions of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe, the Israeli government announced that it was seizing nearly 1,000 acres of land near Bethlehem for expansion of Jewish settlements.

    If carried out, the confiscation near the Etzion bloc south of Jersualem would be the biggest by Israel in 30 years.

    The announcement set off a chorus of diplomatic condemnations, including from the Barack Obama administration.

    "We are deeply concerned about the declaration of a large area as ‘state land’ to be used for expanded settlement building,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday. "We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity. We call on the Government of Israel to reverse this decision.

    "These steps are contrary to Israel's stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed."

    It was perhaps too much to hope that the latest Gaza war would lead to a new round of peace negotiations after the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s marathon shuttling in April.

    Gains and losses

    But the only silver lining from the fighting – which also killed more than 60 Israelis, forced millions of Israelis into bomb shelters on a daily basis and had an adverse impact on tourism and investment – was that it appeared to offer a chance to boost the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its president Mahmoud Abbas as a reliable peace partner and open the way for the PA to retake control of Gaza from Hamas.

    By confiscating such a large amount of West Bank land, however, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would demonstrate how powerless Abbas and the PA are to protect Palestinian rights.

    That is hardly the way to strengthen Abbas and put him in a better position to assert authority in Gaza.

    Israel’s argument is that the area in question was where Palestinian militants kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers in June – the crime that set off the latest explosion of Arab-Israeli fighting.

    But surely there are better ways to protect Israelis than by infuriating ordinary Palestinians. Indeed, more land grabs are likely to have the opposite effect – provoking even more attacks.

    In soccer, an action like this is called an "own goal."

    It is reminiscent of the time four years ago when Israel attacked a flotilla of Turkish ships en route to Gaza to deliver aid. Israel killed nine people, including a Turkish-American, and caused still-unrepaired damage to Israel’s once-strategic relationship with Turkey.

    Even Jewish supporters of Israel in Europe and the United States were hard-pressed to defend what appeared like an excessive use of force.

    This latest step would do more damage to Israeli ties with the United States.

    According to the Haaretz newspaper, Kerry had already decided to skip Israel on an upcoming trip to the region to discuss how to build a coalition against the Islamic State (IS).

    Settlement expansion

    Kerry and other U.S. officials have blamed Israel’s settlement expansion for the failure of earlier peace talks but some had thought that the Gaza war opened a new chance for negotiations.

    It is no secret that relations between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu are strained.

    While Obama will not cut off arms supplies, Israel needs continued U.S. support not just to maintain its military edge but to deflect likely Palestinian initiatives on the international stage.

    Abbas may ask the upcoming U.N. General Assembly to endorse a date for Palestinian independence and take preparatory steps such as admitting the PA into more UN bodies, including the International Criminal Court. It will be harder for the U.S. to block such moves if Israel violates international law by seizing more land for settlements.

    Embroiled in an expanding fight against IS, the Obama administration has less and less patience with Israeli actions that taint the U.S. – its prime supporter – by association.

    The U.S., of course, has scored plenty of "own-goals," too – among them invading Iraq in 2003 and perpetuating indefinite detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. Two American journalists attired in Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuits have now been beheaded by IS in Syria.

    There is probably nothing the U.S. or Israel could do to change the warped world view of members of IS, whose understanding of Islam is minimal and whose brutality is boundless.

    But the narrative of humiliation that is fed by Israeli settlement growth and Gitmo’s continued existence expands the sea in which these terrorists can swim freely.  

    Netanyahu may think that confiscating the land near Bethlehem will strengthen him politically against his right-wing opponents in Israel, who argue that he was not tough enough in Gaza.

    Some countries that also violate international law – say, Russia – will also not object. But Israel considers itself part of the Western democratic world. The Netanyahu government has 45 days to show it belongs there by reversing this damaging decision.


    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora