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 Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

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