The Israeli government followed through on a promise to authorize three illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, in a move designed to mollify Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's settler constituency. It seems certain to make the prospects for meaningful peace talks with the Palestinians recede even further into the distance.
The settler outposts of Rekhelim, Sansana, and Brukhin, which have existed without government authorization on the West Bank since the 1990s, were all given official approval, though they remain illegal under international law. Education Minister Gideon Saar from the prime minister's Likud Party said Netanyahu "gave 1,200 people and the people of Israel a holiday gift," a reference to Israeli independence celebrations this week.
Ben Lynfield wrote about the pending approvals for the Monitor a few weeks ago and said that the decision "would make them among the first new settlements authorized since the early days of the peace process in 1995 and could pave the way for further legalizations among the 96 outposts in the West Bank."
He wrote that the legalizations, along with a government promise to legally challenge court orders to evacuate smaller settlements, "amount to a significant strengthening of Israel's hold in the West Bank, the biblically resonant territory occupied in 1967, which Palestinians claim as the heartland of their future state. For Netanyahu, who heads a right-wing coalition with a strong pro-settler contingent, it was a delicate dance of one small step back and six larger steps forward for settlements."
The government has also this month authorized the construction of 980 more housing units in territory occupied since the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Israeli officials have insisted during recent trips to the US that claims of settlement expansion under Mr. Netanyahu is exaggerated. But the view from Israel and the occupied West Bank tells a different story.
Netanyahu's government is also fighting an Israeli Supreme Court decision calling for the destruction of six government-subsidized apartment buildings in the illegal outpost of Ulpana. Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to lodge an appeal of the court decision before next week, when the evacuation of the homes is currently scheduled.
The expanding de facto annexation of the West Bank, has a growing number of influential people both among the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas and from Israel, questioning the feasibility of the "two-state" solution to the conflict. Last week Mr. Abbas sent a letter to Netanyahu demanding an end to settlement expansion and an Israeli acceptance of pre-1967 borders as the basis of a settlement as preconditions for peace talks. Those conditions are similar to the position of both the Obama Administration and past US governments.
Israel dismissed the letter, reiterating that talks should have no preconditions attached. Now, the relationship between PA President Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who appears to favor a tougher line, appears to be breaking down. The US State Department has responded to the new settlements as "not helpful."
How moribund is the so-called peace process? Yossi Beilin, an Israeli negotiator who was one of the lead negotiators of the 1993 Oslo Accords that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, and of the Geneva Initiative that held so much promise of peace almost nine years ago, appears to have lost faith. In a piece for this paper almost exactly a year ago, Mr. Beilin was still full of hope. His article was titled "The Geneva Accord: a breakthrough model" and he wrote:
With pre-1967 lines (the Green Line) as our starting point, we devised a series of agreed-upon, minor land swaps on a reciprocal, one-to-one basis, according to a formula that would require Israel to evacuate the smallest number of settlements while granting Palestinians the greatest part of the land.The result is a model that would create a Palestinian state on nearly 98 percent of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with the shortfall compensated for by territories inside the Green Line.... The key to our success in reaching a comprehensive agreement was not in the specific solution we offered to each issue – although there was also a lot of creative thinking there, too – but rather in the concurrence of the solutions we offered... My colleagues and I – both Israeli and Palestinian – have pledged to work together and within our respective communities to turn Geneva into reality. We hope that people of goodwill around the world will join us in our pursuit of a just and lasting peace between our two peoples, so that we may live side by side in freedom and security as equal neighbors.
Because there have never been serious negotiations with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the last three years, and because you did not want to perpetuate the myth that a meaningful dialogue existed, you have been sorely tempted to declare the death of the "peace process" -- but the American president urged you to maintain the status quo. It is a mistake to agree to Obama's request, and you can rectify this... The Oslo Accords were a tremendous victory for the peace camps on both sides. And this agreement did not fail. It was thwarted. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Palestinian terrorism, and the political victories of the opponents of the agreement -- both on the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side -- have turned the agreement into a device that has allowed the parties to block a two-state solution...
Dissolving the Palestinian Authority and returning daily control to Israel would be an action nobody could ignore... Do not hesitate for a moment! Do not accept the request of President Obama, who merely wants to be left undisturbed before election day. Do not let Prime Minister Netanyahu hide behind the fig leaf of the Palestinian Authority -- impose upon him, once again, the responsibility for the fate of 4 million Palestinians. Remain as the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which will give you the authority to lead the political negotiations if and when they resume. But for the sake of your own people, and for the sake of peace, you cannot let this farce continue.