Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Green Line

The Difference Between Public and Private Words

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

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Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

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Extending the Settlement Freeze Would Undermine a Vital Israeli Security Interest

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

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RE: The Same Mistake

It is not simply that Obama keeps making the same mistake — public demands on Israel for pre-negotiation concessions that no Israeli prime minister would accept, nor could accept once the demands were made public — but that Obama made an even more fundamental error from the very beginning: redefining a realistic “settlement freeze” into an unrealistic “construction freeze.”

During the Bush administration, there was an informal understanding that a “settlement freeze” meant no new settlements and no expansion of the boundaries of existing ones. Such a definition permitted normal construction within existing areas without reducing the area that might eventually be transferred to a future Palestinian state. It enabled Israel to accept the Roadmap and then to engage in the Annapolis Process — which produced still another offer of a Palestinian state on nearly the entire West Bank — and thus demonstrated that settlements were not an obstacle to the peace process. On the contrary, the major settlement blocs were either adjacent to the Green Line or located in strategically important areas that — as the 2004 Bush letter formally recognized — were going to be retained by Israel in any foreseeable peace agreement.

Obama decided to renege on that understanding, declined to endorse the Bush letter itself, and proceeded to embark on successive attempts to stop all settlement building — resulting in the ludicrous situation of George Mitchell suggesting that a freeze in “natural growth” meant a restriction on the number of births within the settlements. Obama then created a major diplomatic crisis out of an administrative announcement of future construction in a Jewish area of Jerusalem. This month, he publicly castigated the settlements in a formal speech at the UN, seemingly oblivious to the effect his words have on the Palestinian insistence that Israel concede a fundamental issue before negotiations have begun.

There is a logical way out of this morass — simply revert to the definition of a “settlement freeze” that previously governed the peace process and that permitted it to proceed without concessions on the issue by either side. But this would require Obama to acknowledge that he inherited a solution from George W. Bush and substituted a mess.

It is not simply that Obama keeps making the same mistake — public demands on Israel for pre-negotiation concessions that no Israeli prime minister would accept, nor could accept once the demands were made public — but that Obama made an even more fundamental error from the very beginning: redefining a realistic “settlement freeze” into an unrealistic “construction freeze.”

During the Bush administration, there was an informal understanding that a “settlement freeze” meant no new settlements and no expansion of the boundaries of existing ones. Such a definition permitted normal construction within existing areas without reducing the area that might eventually be transferred to a future Palestinian state. It enabled Israel to accept the Roadmap and then to engage in the Annapolis Process — which produced still another offer of a Palestinian state on nearly the entire West Bank — and thus demonstrated that settlements were not an obstacle to the peace process. On the contrary, the major settlement blocs were either adjacent to the Green Line or located in strategically important areas that — as the 2004 Bush letter formally recognized — were going to be retained by Israel in any foreseeable peace agreement.

Obama decided to renege on that understanding, declined to endorse the Bush letter itself, and proceeded to embark on successive attempts to stop all settlement building — resulting in the ludicrous situation of George Mitchell suggesting that a freeze in “natural growth” meant a restriction on the number of births within the settlements. Obama then created a major diplomatic crisis out of an administrative announcement of future construction in a Jewish area of Jerusalem. This month, he publicly castigated the settlements in a formal speech at the UN, seemingly oblivious to the effect his words have on the Palestinian insistence that Israel concede a fundamental issue before negotiations have begun.

There is a logical way out of this morass — simply revert to the definition of a “settlement freeze” that previously governed the peace process and that permitted it to proceed without concessions on the issue by either side. But this would require Obama to acknowledge that he inherited a solution from George W. Bush and substituted a mess.

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Settlement Freeze: An Unacceptable Veto

It has always been the case that Israel’s government would have to choose, at some point, to lift the freeze on settlement construction. The reason is simple: Israel can’t give anyone else an effective veto over settlement activities. Protecting settlements in Judea and Samaria is a matter of national security: it prevents the Palestinian Arabs from using the territory to menace Israelis across the Green Line. Past Israeli withdrawals from strategic or disputed territories have produced ever-present menaces along its other boundaries, as demonstrated in Gaza and the Hezbollah fiefdom in southern Lebanon. The West Bank, moreover, is an even more dangerous case from a geographic standpoint, because its mountainous heights look down on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s national and economic life.

In the absence of an enforceable, good-faith agreement with the Palestinian Authority, Israel can’t let either the PA or the U.S. exercise a de facto veto over its administration of the settlements. The right to such a veto, once established, would be wielded in incremental steps to prejudice Israel’s security and bargaining position. It would amount to much more than a minor concession in the interest of the current talks. Accepting a de facto settlement veto would open the door to a campaign of attrition against the settlements, just as it would validate the Palestinian negotiating principle of winning major and debilitating concessions as a prior condition of talks — and therefore without the Palestinians themselves having to commit to anything.

In light of this reality, the lament of Roger Cohen in the New York Times today is both ironic and poignant. If the talks break down over the settlement issue, says Cohen, “Netanyahu and Abbas know … Obama would look amateurish.” It would be a “terrible mistake,” in his view, for Netanyahu to reject a formal extension of the settlement freeze. He and Abbas both need the United States, which is “an incentive to avoid humiliating Obama.” Obama himself “should fight it until the last minute. His international credibility is on the line.”

But it’s Obama who put himself in this position. He and his foreign-policy team are amateurish; that’s the whole problem. Regardless of whether they agree with Israel’s view of the settlements and their relation to national security, they should have understood and acknowledged it as real. No negotiations can succeed if the concerns of one party are ignored or dismissed. For that party, accepting the breakdown of negotiations is likely to be the lesser of two evils.

Netanyahu must lift the settlement freeze sometime, and the longer he waits, the more of a political disruption it will be.  He can’t let it become the status quo by default. He may yet find some way to navigate between two difficult positions, at least for another few weeks. But ultimately, his obligation is to the security of Israel. I believe that will be at least as much of a motive for him as retaining his coalition in the Knesset.

Obama’s credibility, meanwhile, is Obama’s problem. If he wants to see it undamaged, he could not do better than to learn from the present impasse and avoid backing himself into a corner again. Roger Cohen may think it’s a good idea to bolster Obama’s credibility with unilateral security concessions from Israel, but it’s a good bet Bibi doesn’t.

It has always been the case that Israel’s government would have to choose, at some point, to lift the freeze on settlement construction. The reason is simple: Israel can’t give anyone else an effective veto over settlement activities. Protecting settlements in Judea and Samaria is a matter of national security: it prevents the Palestinian Arabs from using the territory to menace Israelis across the Green Line. Past Israeli withdrawals from strategic or disputed territories have produced ever-present menaces along its other boundaries, as demonstrated in Gaza and the Hezbollah fiefdom in southern Lebanon. The West Bank, moreover, is an even more dangerous case from a geographic standpoint, because its mountainous heights look down on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s national and economic life.

In the absence of an enforceable, good-faith agreement with the Palestinian Authority, Israel can’t let either the PA or the U.S. exercise a de facto veto over its administration of the settlements. The right to such a veto, once established, would be wielded in incremental steps to prejudice Israel’s security and bargaining position. It would amount to much more than a minor concession in the interest of the current talks. Accepting a de facto settlement veto would open the door to a campaign of attrition against the settlements, just as it would validate the Palestinian negotiating principle of winning major and debilitating concessions as a prior condition of talks — and therefore without the Palestinians themselves having to commit to anything.

In light of this reality, the lament of Roger Cohen in the New York Times today is both ironic and poignant. If the talks break down over the settlement issue, says Cohen, “Netanyahu and Abbas know … Obama would look amateurish.” It would be a “terrible mistake,” in his view, for Netanyahu to reject a formal extension of the settlement freeze. He and Abbas both need the United States, which is “an incentive to avoid humiliating Obama.” Obama himself “should fight it until the last minute. His international credibility is on the line.”

But it’s Obama who put himself in this position. He and his foreign-policy team are amateurish; that’s the whole problem. Regardless of whether they agree with Israel’s view of the settlements and their relation to national security, they should have understood and acknowledged it as real. No negotiations can succeed if the concerns of one party are ignored or dismissed. For that party, accepting the breakdown of negotiations is likely to be the lesser of two evils.

Netanyahu must lift the settlement freeze sometime, and the longer he waits, the more of a political disruption it will be.  He can’t let it become the status quo by default. He may yet find some way to navigate between two difficult positions, at least for another few weeks. But ultimately, his obligation is to the security of Israel. I believe that will be at least as much of a motive for him as retaining his coalition in the Knesset.

Obama’s credibility, meanwhile, is Obama’s problem. If he wants to see it undamaged, he could not do better than to learn from the present impasse and avoid backing himself into a corner again. Roger Cohen may think it’s a good idea to bolster Obama’s credibility with unilateral security concessions from Israel, but it’s a good bet Bibi doesn’t.

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About That Settlement Freeze

Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick is in favor of continuing the settlement freeze that’s set to expire later this month — as long as the freeze is only in West Bank settlements that are actually up for discussion and that might plausibly be dismantled in a future peace deal with Palestinians. “Not in Modi’in Illit,” he said, referring to an ultra-Orthodox settlement immediately adjacent the Green Line, “which will remain in Israel no matter what, and certainly not in any part of Jerusalem.”

Israel annexed all of Jerusalem decades ago. And while very few Jews move to and build in Arab neighborhoods, enormous Jewish neighborhoods have been constructed on land that used to be empty. There is no chance these places will ever be part of a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians first conquer Israel. It doesn’t matter if Israelis should or should not have built in these areas. The fact is that they did. Hundreds of thousands of people live there today.

The same goes for some of the settlements near the Green Line, such as those in Gush Etzion. They have not been formally annexed to Israel like Jerusalem has, but because they can be annexed without disrupting or fatally compromising a Palestinian state in the future, they will be. Last year, after Jimmy Carter visited the Gush Etzion settlement of Neve Daniel, he said, “This particular settlement area is not one that I can envision ever being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory. This is part of settlements close to the 1967 line that I think will be here forever.”

Imposing a building freeze in areas that will never be Palestinian is actually a little bit dangerous. It puts these places on the table, so to speak, and tells the Palestinians they stand a chance of acquiring them as parts of their own state down the road if only enough pressure can be brought to bear.

But it isn’t going to happen. Israel is no more likely to uproot all these people than the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Hebron will voluntarily transfer themselves to Jordan. The only way to permanently relocate that many people in the Middle East is with an invasion or a ruthless campaign of mass murder.

Christopher Hitchens once wrote that “terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible, and demanding it at gunpoint.” The Palestinians need to understand that conquering areas where hundreds of thousands of Jews live is impossible. Many among them will continue insisting on it at gunpoint regardless, but at least they won’t be inadvertently egged on by the White House.

Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick is in favor of continuing the settlement freeze that’s set to expire later this month — as long as the freeze is only in West Bank settlements that are actually up for discussion and that might plausibly be dismantled in a future peace deal with Palestinians. “Not in Modi’in Illit,” he said, referring to an ultra-Orthodox settlement immediately adjacent the Green Line, “which will remain in Israel no matter what, and certainly not in any part of Jerusalem.”

Israel annexed all of Jerusalem decades ago. And while very few Jews move to and build in Arab neighborhoods, enormous Jewish neighborhoods have been constructed on land that used to be empty. There is no chance these places will ever be part of a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians first conquer Israel. It doesn’t matter if Israelis should or should not have built in these areas. The fact is that they did. Hundreds of thousands of people live there today.

The same goes for some of the settlements near the Green Line, such as those in Gush Etzion. They have not been formally annexed to Israel like Jerusalem has, but because they can be annexed without disrupting or fatally compromising a Palestinian state in the future, they will be. Last year, after Jimmy Carter visited the Gush Etzion settlement of Neve Daniel, he said, “This particular settlement area is not one that I can envision ever being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory. This is part of settlements close to the 1967 line that I think will be here forever.”

Imposing a building freeze in areas that will never be Palestinian is actually a little bit dangerous. It puts these places on the table, so to speak, and tells the Palestinians they stand a chance of acquiring them as parts of their own state down the road if only enough pressure can be brought to bear.

But it isn’t going to happen. Israel is no more likely to uproot all these people than the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Hebron will voluntarily transfer themselves to Jordan. The only way to permanently relocate that many people in the Middle East is with an invasion or a ruthless campaign of mass murder.

Christopher Hitchens once wrote that “terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible, and demanding it at gunpoint.” The Palestinians need to understand that conquering areas where hundreds of thousands of Jews live is impossible. Many among them will continue insisting on it at gunpoint regardless, but at least they won’t be inadvertently egged on by the White House.

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“Traditionally” Ill-Informed Times Slants News on Jerusalem

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

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The EU’s New Effort to Thwart Israeli-Palestinian Peace

For a body that prides itself on its “soft power,” the European Union has a remarkable capacity to stymie its own diplomatic goals through inept diplomacy.

A classic example was the UN-brokered agreement to reunify Cyprus in 2004, when the EU promised to admit Greek Cyprus regardless of whether it accepted the agreement, whereas Turkish Cyprus would be admitted only if both sides accepted the plan. The results were predictable: Greek Cypriots, their reward assured regardless of their behavior, had no reason to make even the minimal concessions the plan entailed, so they rejected it. But Turkish Cypriots, who approved it, were penalized: even the minor economic benefits the EU pledged after the vote never materialized, because Greek Cyprus used its shiny new EU veto to block them. Five years later, the negotiations drag on, and the island remains divided.

The EU is now poised to make the same mistake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, via a draft document proposed by its rotating president, Sweden, that Israeli diplomats say EU foreign ministers look certain to adopt on December 7. The document reportedly details every concession the EU expects Israel to make to the Palestinians but specifies no reciprocal Palestinian concessions. And it thereby feeds Palestinian illusions that they need not make any concessions; the international community will simply force Israel to accept all their demands.

Specifically, the document says that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state and that the 1967 lines must be its borders, unless the Palestinians choose otherwise. It also implies that the EU would recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in these borders “at the appropriate time.”

But it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians give up their dream of resettling millions of descendants of refugees in Israel — something everyone recognizes as a sine qua non of any agreement.

It doesn’t demand border adjustments to account for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live over the Green Line, especially in Jerusalem, though everyone knows this is necessary: no agreement that entailed evicting hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes would ever pass the Knesset.

It doesn’t demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state or acknowledge Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. It doesn’t require any security arrangements. It doesn’t even call for recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Normally, these issues would be resolved during negotiations. But if the EU has already “given” the Palestinians East Jerusalem and the 1967 borders, the Palestinians have no need to make concessions on, say, the “right of return” in exchange. Nor need they make such concessions in exchange for anything else, because once borders and Jerusalem are off the table, Israel has nothing left to give. In short, Israel will have no means of extracting the concessions it needs for a viable deal. Therefore, there will be no deal.

Adopting this document would thus kill any chance of achieving one of the EU’s own stated top priorities: Israeli-Palestinian peace. Evidently, some diplomats never learn.

For a body that prides itself on its “soft power,” the European Union has a remarkable capacity to stymie its own diplomatic goals through inept diplomacy.

A classic example was the UN-brokered agreement to reunify Cyprus in 2004, when the EU promised to admit Greek Cyprus regardless of whether it accepted the agreement, whereas Turkish Cyprus would be admitted only if both sides accepted the plan. The results were predictable: Greek Cypriots, their reward assured regardless of their behavior, had no reason to make even the minimal concessions the plan entailed, so they rejected it. But Turkish Cypriots, who approved it, were penalized: even the minor economic benefits the EU pledged after the vote never materialized, because Greek Cyprus used its shiny new EU veto to block them. Five years later, the negotiations drag on, and the island remains divided.

The EU is now poised to make the same mistake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, via a draft document proposed by its rotating president, Sweden, that Israeli diplomats say EU foreign ministers look certain to adopt on December 7. The document reportedly details every concession the EU expects Israel to make to the Palestinians but specifies no reciprocal Palestinian concessions. And it thereby feeds Palestinian illusions that they need not make any concessions; the international community will simply force Israel to accept all their demands.

Specifically, the document says that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state and that the 1967 lines must be its borders, unless the Palestinians choose otherwise. It also implies that the EU would recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in these borders “at the appropriate time.”

But it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians give up their dream of resettling millions of descendants of refugees in Israel — something everyone recognizes as a sine qua non of any agreement.

It doesn’t demand border adjustments to account for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live over the Green Line, especially in Jerusalem, though everyone knows this is necessary: no agreement that entailed evicting hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes would ever pass the Knesset.

It doesn’t demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state or acknowledge Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. It doesn’t require any security arrangements. It doesn’t even call for recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Normally, these issues would be resolved during negotiations. But if the EU has already “given” the Palestinians East Jerusalem and the 1967 borders, the Palestinians have no need to make concessions on, say, the “right of return” in exchange. Nor need they make such concessions in exchange for anything else, because once borders and Jerusalem are off the table, Israel has nothing left to give. In short, Israel will have no means of extracting the concessions it needs for a viable deal. Therefore, there will be no deal.

Adopting this document would thus kill any chance of achieving one of the EU’s own stated top priorities: Israeli-Palestinian peace. Evidently, some diplomats never learn.

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What About the Occupation of the Western Wall?

I’m having a hard time understanding the thinking behind the Obama administration’s decision to criticize construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. The administration seems to have decided that Gilo is a settlement, and the international press is of course helping the cause by falsely reporting that Gilo is in (Arab) East Jerusalem. As Maurice Ostroff points out in a must-read Jerusalem Post piece:

The reality is that Gilo is very different than the outposts in the West Bank. It is not in east Jerusalem as widely reported. It is a Jerusalem neighborhood with a population of around 40,000. The ground was bought by Jews before WWII and settled in 1971 in south west Jerusalem opposite Mount Gilo within the municipal borders. There is no inference whatsoever that it rests on Arab land.

Gilo is one of several neighborhoods that sit on land occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967, after the withdrawal of the British Mandate. This border is called the Green Line, and it

refers only to the 1949 Armistice lines established after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. … Nor is it fixed, as explained by Justice Stephen M. Schwebel, who spent 19 years as a judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, including three years as President. He wrote “…modifications of the 1949 armistice lines among those States within former Palestinian territory are lawful (if not necessarily desirable), whether those modifications are, in Secretary Rogers’s words, “insubstantial alterations required for mutual security” or more substantial alterations — such as recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem.” …

The Palestinians never had sovereignty over the West Bank nor east Jerusalem and Justice Schwebel concluded that since Jordan, the prior holder of these territories had seized that territory unlawfully in 1948, Israel which subsequently took that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense in 1967, has better title to it. Jordan’s illegal annexation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1948 was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan and Jordan now makes no claim to it.

In terms of international law, between 1948 and 1967 this territory was terra nullius, or “land belonging to no one” over which sovereignty may be acquired through occupation. The concept of terra nullius is well recognized in international law.

Getting back to the Obama administration: what is the principle behind the critique of construction in Gilo? There are many parts of Jerusalem that share its standing. Those places include the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall, both of which, like Gilo, were controlled by Jordan during the twenty years between the founding of the state and the Six Day War.

Is the Jewish Quarter a settlement? Is the Western Wall occupied? Is Israeli construction in them inimical to the peace process? Someone should ask these questions of Robert Gibbs at the next press conference. By the administration’s Gilo logic, the answer to all three would have to be yes.

I’m having a hard time understanding the thinking behind the Obama administration’s decision to criticize construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. The administration seems to have decided that Gilo is a settlement, and the international press is of course helping the cause by falsely reporting that Gilo is in (Arab) East Jerusalem. As Maurice Ostroff points out in a must-read Jerusalem Post piece:

The reality is that Gilo is very different than the outposts in the West Bank. It is not in east Jerusalem as widely reported. It is a Jerusalem neighborhood with a population of around 40,000. The ground was bought by Jews before WWII and settled in 1971 in south west Jerusalem opposite Mount Gilo within the municipal borders. There is no inference whatsoever that it rests on Arab land.

Gilo is one of several neighborhoods that sit on land occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967, after the withdrawal of the British Mandate. This border is called the Green Line, and it

refers only to the 1949 Armistice lines established after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. … Nor is it fixed, as explained by Justice Stephen M. Schwebel, who spent 19 years as a judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, including three years as President. He wrote “…modifications of the 1949 armistice lines among those States within former Palestinian territory are lawful (if not necessarily desirable), whether those modifications are, in Secretary Rogers’s words, “insubstantial alterations required for mutual security” or more substantial alterations — such as recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem.” …

The Palestinians never had sovereignty over the West Bank nor east Jerusalem and Justice Schwebel concluded that since Jordan, the prior holder of these territories had seized that territory unlawfully in 1948, Israel which subsequently took that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense in 1967, has better title to it. Jordan’s illegal annexation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1948 was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan and Jordan now makes no claim to it.

In terms of international law, between 1948 and 1967 this territory was terra nullius, or “land belonging to no one” over which sovereignty may be acquired through occupation. The concept of terra nullius is well recognized in international law.

Getting back to the Obama administration: what is the principle behind the critique of construction in Gilo? There are many parts of Jerusalem that share its standing. Those places include the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall, both of which, like Gilo, were controlled by Jordan during the twenty years between the founding of the state and the Six Day War.

Is the Jewish Quarter a settlement? Is the Western Wall occupied? Is Israeli construction in them inimical to the peace process? Someone should ask these questions of Robert Gibbs at the next press conference. By the administration’s Gilo logic, the answer to all three would have to be yes.

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Britain’s Qumran Craziness

When will the Brits run out of new and creative ways to attack Israel? The British Advertising Standards Authority, an independent watchdog set up to ensure fairness in advertising, has attacked the Israeli tourism ministry for including the historical site at Qumran in one of its ads. The problem? Qumran is on the wrong side of the Green Line, and is technically in territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Therefore, Israel is “misleading” consumers by implying that Qumran is in Israel.

Leave aside the fact that the territory is disputed, or that Qumran is known as an important site only because the Israeli government has enabled archaeologists for a generation to excavate and analyze the crucial Dead Sea Scrolls that were found there. Even leave aside the ridiculous double-standards involved: According to one ministry official, “Representatives of the Palestinian Tourism Ministry feature a map of Palestine which shows all of Israel’s regions, including Ben-Gurion Airport, as Palestine’s major airport, but the British never complained about that.”

What I’m wondering is: Are images of the Western Wall, which was also conquered by Israel in 1967, also “misleading”? And what about the Knesset, which sits in Western Jerusalem, which has never been formally recognized as part of Israel? We’re waiting, BASA . . .

When will the Brits run out of new and creative ways to attack Israel? The British Advertising Standards Authority, an independent watchdog set up to ensure fairness in advertising, has attacked the Israeli tourism ministry for including the historical site at Qumran in one of its ads. The problem? Qumran is on the wrong side of the Green Line, and is technically in territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Therefore, Israel is “misleading” consumers by implying that Qumran is in Israel.

Leave aside the fact that the territory is disputed, or that Qumran is known as an important site only because the Israeli government has enabled archaeologists for a generation to excavate and analyze the crucial Dead Sea Scrolls that were found there. Even leave aside the ridiculous double-standards involved: According to one ministry official, “Representatives of the Palestinian Tourism Ministry feature a map of Palestine which shows all of Israel’s regions, including Ben-Gurion Airport, as Palestine’s major airport, but the British never complained about that.”

What I’m wondering is: Are images of the Western Wall, which was also conquered by Israel in 1967, also “misleading”? And what about the Knesset, which sits in Western Jerusalem, which has never been formally recognized as part of Israel? We’re waiting, BASA . . .

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Olmert’s Misguided Optimism

Credit Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with one thing: he’s probably the only world leader more publicly optimistic about Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects than George W. Bush. Yesterday, Olmert announced that Israel would begin negotiating final borders with the Palestinians, the ongoing crisis in Gaza notwithstanding. “On this issue there is a set of previous understandings and international backing,” Olmert said, raising expectations in the Israeli press for an “easy” solution.

Of course, Olmert is delusional—Israeli-Palestinian consensus on border issues is light years away. Just ask the Arabic press, which completely ignored Olmert’s negotiations announcement. Instead, the Palestine News Agency, al-Jazeera, and al-Quds placed Israel’s decision to construct new housing units in East Jerusalem among its top headlines, while al-Hayat al-Jadida bemoaned “the Judaization of Jerusalem.” Meanwhile, al-Ayyam’s coverage of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s visit to Washington emphasized his call for an end to Israeli settlement activity—an appropriate focus, given Fayyad’s newly avowed pessimism towards the peace process.

The source of this widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian leaders’ outlooks appears to be Olmert’s fixation on Bush’s April 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which Olmert cited in his call for border negotiations. In this letter, Bush acknowledged that, “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” At the time, Israelis interpreted this as recognizing settlement blocs along the Green Line as a diplomatic reward for the forthcoming Gaza disengagement, thus removing the mutual exclusivity of land-for-peace with settlement expansion.

In fact, the letter recognized no such thing. Rather, it simply allowed for the possibility that future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would opt for “mutually agreed changes” to the Green Line in establishing final borders, and promised to endorse these changes if they were formulated by the two sides. Moreover, the letter made repeated reference to the Road Map, the first phase of which explicitly calls on Israel to freeze settlement activity.

Of course, settlement activity is not the primary reason for the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Indeed, considering the full-scale guerilla war that will likely hit Gaza in the near future, the settlements are small beans. Still, the Prime Minister’s inability to recognize the distance that exists between him and his Palestinian counterparts on borders—which is roughly the distance between the Green Line and the eastern edge of Har Homa—is confounding. If Olmert hopes to bridge that distance, he would be well advised to match his stated goals with policy, finally acknowledging the extent to which continued settlement building is inconsistent with peace efforts.

Credit Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with one thing: he’s probably the only world leader more publicly optimistic about Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects than George W. Bush. Yesterday, Olmert announced that Israel would begin negotiating final borders with the Palestinians, the ongoing crisis in Gaza notwithstanding. “On this issue there is a set of previous understandings and international backing,” Olmert said, raising expectations in the Israeli press for an “easy” solution.

Of course, Olmert is delusional—Israeli-Palestinian consensus on border issues is light years away. Just ask the Arabic press, which completely ignored Olmert’s negotiations announcement. Instead, the Palestine News Agency, al-Jazeera, and al-Quds placed Israel’s decision to construct new housing units in East Jerusalem among its top headlines, while al-Hayat al-Jadida bemoaned “the Judaization of Jerusalem.” Meanwhile, al-Ayyam’s coverage of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s visit to Washington emphasized his call for an end to Israeli settlement activity—an appropriate focus, given Fayyad’s newly avowed pessimism towards the peace process.

The source of this widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian leaders’ outlooks appears to be Olmert’s fixation on Bush’s April 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which Olmert cited in his call for border negotiations. In this letter, Bush acknowledged that, “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” At the time, Israelis interpreted this as recognizing settlement blocs along the Green Line as a diplomatic reward for the forthcoming Gaza disengagement, thus removing the mutual exclusivity of land-for-peace with settlement expansion.

In fact, the letter recognized no such thing. Rather, it simply allowed for the possibility that future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would opt for “mutually agreed changes” to the Green Line in establishing final borders, and promised to endorse these changes if they were formulated by the two sides. Moreover, the letter made repeated reference to the Road Map, the first phase of which explicitly calls on Israel to freeze settlement activity.

Of course, settlement activity is not the primary reason for the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Indeed, considering the full-scale guerilla war that will likely hit Gaza in the near future, the settlements are small beans. Still, the Prime Minister’s inability to recognize the distance that exists between him and his Palestinian counterparts on borders—which is roughly the distance between the Green Line and the eastern edge of Har Homa—is confounding. If Olmert hopes to bridge that distance, he would be well advised to match his stated goals with policy, finally acknowledging the extent to which continued settlement building is inconsistent with peace efforts.

Read Less




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