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No more make-believe in the Middle East

Bibi's policies may be misguided, but at least he doesn't pretend to be a peacemaker. Such intellectual honesty could prove salutary.

By Norman H. Olsen / April 27, 2009

Cherryfield, Maine

Let's not be so hard on Bibi.

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The squealing on the Israeli and American left is making Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu out to be a minority radical, a warmonger among the majority progressives who want a just peace with the Palestinians.

In reality, the bad news – and the good – is that Mr. Netanyahu doesn't pretend to be a peacemaker.

Let's look at the record.

Settlement construction, including the massive developments encircling Jerusalem, has continued for four decades. All of Bibi's predecessors – even the "doves" – never once slowed settlement construction, despite their repeated assurances. Throughout, despite intensive US monitoring and reporting on growth, the US has always pretended to believe them.

In the early 1990s, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told the US that settlement sites such as Har Homa were merely in the planning stages. When site work began, he claimed that it was only preparatory work with no approval for construction. When ministry approvals for construction were given, he and his successors claimed that they would prevent construction. Today Har Homa stands as one of the many monuments to the success of deny, deny, deny.

The latest and final major link in the chain of Jerusalem-encircling settlements, known as E1, has followed exactly the same progression. E1 is important, because if it is allowed to become a town, it will effectively split the West Bank in two, ending hopes for a two-state solution. US observers, myself included, reported during the past six years the clear evidence of site preparation, only to be told by the highest levels of the Israeli government that roadbeds, drainage systems, terracing, and other clearly observable major works were "erosion control." Again, the US pretended to believe the official spin.

Former Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert told the US repeatedly that the separation barrier would not be used for political purposes, and that its route through the West Bank, rather than along the internationally accepted "Green Line," was to provide security "setback" for towns on the Israeli side of the Green Line. Again, the US pretended to believe them.

Today, the tens of thousands of acres of West Bank land between the Green Line and the separation barrier are the fastest-growing areas for settlement construction, all built right up against the barrier, with no security setback, ensuring Israeli facts on the ground.

This pattern of pretending holds true for promises to ease travel for Palestinians within the West Bank. At the time of the Nov. 15, 2005, Agreement on Movement and Access, which was pressed on the Israelis and Palestinians by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, there were some 320 roadblocks. At the time, some US embassy staff openly termed the agreement toothless. Secretary Rice and her team termed it a historic achievement. Today, there are 632 roadblocks.

Ditto for the growth in Israeli-settler-only road systems in the West Bank, the thousands of Palestinians held prisoner for years without charge in Israeli "administrative detention," and the continuing blockage of Palestinian commercial traffic into and out of the Occupied Territories.