Obama demands that Israel stop settlements. How feasible is that?
The US and Israel agreed this week to establish a joint committee on how to implement a freeze outlined in the 2003 road map.
Ariel, West Bank
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On Thursday, Israeli police evacuated an unauthorized settlement outpost of Maoz Esther, but Israeli peace activists said the move was a public relations stunt, since no settlers live there on a permanent basis.
Amid the ebb and flow of US peace initiatives and the rise and fall Israeli governments, the unchecked growth of Israeli citizens in territories claimed by the Palestinians has been a constant. But now that there appears to be a will at the White House, is there a way to prompt Mr. Netanyahu to take his right-wing government where no Israeli prime minister has ever gone? While Israel has agreed to freeze settlement growth in the past, implementing, monitoring, and enforcing such an agreement is fraught with political and logistical difficulties.
"American presidents have tended to lack determination on the settlement question, although all seem to agree it is a major obstacle. That legacy is Obama's first challenge," says Scott Lasensky, a senior research associate at the US Institute for Peace. "The good news is that the Israeli body politic has given up on settlements, the problem being that successive Israeli governments have been unable and unwilling to stop them."
Stalled peace, flourishing construction
When former President George W. Bush got former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to commit to a freeze on settlements at the Annapolis peace summit 18 months ago, in the sprawling settlement of Ariel builders had just finished the foundation work on four new apartment buildings on Moriah Street – located on the southeastern edge of this Israeli bedroom community in the heart of the West Bank.
As the Annapolis process stalled and collapsed, the apartments were completed and sold to Israelis willing to move across the Green Line into the West Bank, where home prices are cheaper. Now, the frames of four more bigger buildings are nearing conclusion just up the road.
"It's a new building in a settlement, and if someone went out there, we'd note that. That's a crystal-clear violation," says a Western diplomat, referring to the Bush administration's 2003 "road map" – a blueprint for peace that calls for a settlement freeze. Israel has agreed to the road map but claims implementation is dependent on Palestinian fulfillment of parallel obligations.