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Freezes, Then and Now

In the course of writing an article for an Israeli newspaper (Hebrew only), I went back to reading Ronald Reagan’s September 1, 1982 speech on Middle East peace (the Reagan Plan) and Israel’s response to this long-forgotten initiative. As Israel and the U.S. are at odds again over the issue of “settlement freeze,” it is worth revisiting Reagan’s call for a settlement freeze:

The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transition period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs and a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.

And on the day after, September 2, 1982, the Israeli government rejected this part of the Reagan plan:

In the Camp David agreement no mention whatsoever is made of such a freeze. At Camp David the Prime Minister agreed that new settlements could not be be established (though population would be added to existing ones) during the period of the negotiations for the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (three months being explicitly stated). This commitment was carried out in full. That three month period terminated on December 1978…

Reagan, like Obama, wanted Israel to freeze “settlement activity.” Netanyahu, like former PM Menachem Begin, argues that even during a “freeze,” there will be no freeze of “natural growth” (“population would be added to existing ones”). Thus, the real question about Obama has to do with the intensity and ferocity with which he will pursue the goal of settlement freeze.

In other words: has Obama decided that even if freeze means the collapse of the Israeli coalition – and the demise of Netanyahu’s government – he is still going to pursue it without compromise? Since bringing about peace is not in his power, maybe some of his advisors believe that the toppling of Netanyahu’s coalition will allow Obama to gain the trust of the Arab world.


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