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

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

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