Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Netanyahu Announces Settlement Non-Freeze

Good news in the paper this morning. Great news, in fact. According to Ha’aretz:

Netanyahu declares 10-month settlement freeze ‘to restart peace talks’

Yes indeed, there’s gonna be peace in the Middle East!

I’m being sarcastic, of course. As I’ve come to learn, whenever there appears to be good news in the Israel-Palestine saga, there’s always a catch.

The catch this time can be found five paragraphs into the Ha’aretz article, where it’s revealed that Netanyahu’s settlement freeze excludes East Jerusalem. Explains the prime minister: “We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital.” Later into the article, we learn that the freeze also excludes homes already under construction, as well as non-residential buildings. “We will not halt existing construction and we will continue to build synagogues, schools, kindergartens and public buildings essential for normal life in the settlements.”

So, in other words, Bibi has called for a “freeze” in settlement construction that doesn’t actually freeze settlement construction. Presumably this non-freeze means that Israel will go ahead with plans to build 900 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Gilo. If you’ve been following the headlines, you’ll remember that it was only last week that Israel announced it would build these units.

“I hope that this decision,” Bibi states, “will help launch meaningful negotiations to reach a historic peace agreement that would finally end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” He adds: “We have been told by many of our friends that once Israel takes the first meaningful steps toward peace, the Palestinians and Arab states would respond.”

Not surprisingly, Palestinian leaders were quick to decry Bibi’s non-freeze announcement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat pointed out that this is not “a real settlement freeze,” and PNA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad noted that the “exclusion of Jerusalem is a very serious problem for us.”

So it looks like there aren’t going to be peace talks after all

Now I imagine that some of you might be tempted to side, or at least sympathize, with Bibi here. After all, you might be thinking, at least he’s shown himself willing to make some concessions. Sure, his offer is disappointing, but at least it’s something, right?

But this view only makes sense if we disregard international law. Because, according to international law, all of the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem, is Occupied Palestinian Territory. Which, among other things, means that Israel does not have the right to build settlements there.

So it doesn’t make sense to praise Bibi for promising to limit the number of settlements Israel builds on Palestinian land, just as it wouldn’t make sense to praise a criminal who, after stealing your credit cards, promised to watch his spending.

Of course, in Bibi’s defense, he’s probably offered as much as members of his far-right coalition will allow. Which means that, unless the Obama administration tires of enduring one bitch slap after another and shows that it’s willing to stand up to the Israelis—and, of course, the only way to do that is to freeze—I mean, really freeze—foreign aid—then we’re not going to have peace talks anytime soon.

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