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

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid