In an interview with Charlie Rose this week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate unless Israel freezes settlement construction is unjustified, because their claim settlements are stealing the land needed for a Palestinian state is pure “propaganda.” How so? Because “after 44 years, the whole Jewish settlement in the whole West Bank together doesn’t cover even two percent of the area.”
Is this mere propaganda on Barak’s part – a lie meant to downplay the devastating impact of Jewish settlement? Actually, Palestinians put the figure even lower: In an interview with the Arabic radio station As-Shams two weeks ago, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that based on an aerial photograph provided by European sources, the settlements cover only 1.1 percent of the West Bank.
So if settlements cover only 1.1 percent of the West Bank, why does the entire West deem them the main obstacle to peace? Because admitting that settlements aren’t the main obstacle to peace would force it to confront an unpalatable truth: that the real obstacle to peace is Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in any borders.
It’s not that evidence of this has ever been lacking. In July, for instance, a poll found that 66 percent of Palestinians view the two-state solution as a mere stepping-stone to Israel’s eradication. Last month, a whopping 89.8 percent of Palestinian respondents in another poll said they opposed waiving the “right of return” – their demand to eradicate the Jewish state demographically by flooding it with five million descendants of refugees – “even if [that means] no peace deal would be concluded.” Translation: If getting a state of their own means giving up their goal of destroying the Jewish one, they’d rather keep living under “the brutal Israeli occupation.”
But you don’t need to read the polls; Palestinian negotiating tactics also demonstrate their utter disinterest in reaching a deal. In a lecture last month, George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s former envoy to the peace process, described what happened when Israel declared a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in November 2009:
The Palestinians opposed it on the grounds, in their words, that it was worse than useless. So they refused to enter into the negotiations until nine months of the ten had elapsed. Once they entered, they then said it was indispensable. What had been worse than useless a few months before then became indispensable and they said they would not remain in the talks unless that indispensable element were extended.
In short, the freeze issue was just a giant excuse to avoid actually having to negotiate: It was “useless” while it existed but “indispensable” once it didn’t. Yet the Obama administration never called the Palestinians out on this at the time. Instead, it put intense pressure on Israel to extend the freeze, as did other Western countries – because admitting the Palestinians simply don’t want to negotiate would mean acknowledging that the conflict is currently insoluble.
Granted, that isn’t a very pleasant thing to acknowledge. But isn’t it about time for the West to finally face up to the truth?