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 Firms Concerned About China's New Cyber Regulations

New rules would require technology companies doing business in financial sector to hand over their source code, adopt Chinese encryption algorithms More

WHO Focus on Ebola Shifts to Ending Outbreak

Focus to be less on building facilities and more on efforts to find infected people, manage their cases, engage with communities and ensure proper burials More

US Scientist Who Conceived of Groundbreaking Laser Technology Dies

Charles Townes, Nobel laureate, laser co-creator paved way for other scientific discoveries: CDs, eye surgery, metal cutters to name a few technologies that rely on lasers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid