Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Israeli Settlements Expanding

The arrival in Israel of There could be potential friction as U.S. peace envoy and longtime critic of settlement construction George Mitchell, a long time critic of Israeli settlements, arrives in Israel. His visit coincides with a newly released study detailing Israeli settlement expansion.

Print Friendly

(Inter Press Service)

Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank increased sharply in 2008, despite Israel’s pledge at the beginning of the year to freeze all construction, according to a new report by an Israeli non-governmental organization.

The report, released Wednesday by the group Peace Now, found that settlement construction in 2008 increased by almost 60 percent, including new construction both inside and outside of the security barrier and within illegal settlement outposts.

The Peace Now study was released on the same day that newly appointed U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell—a longtime critic of settlement construction—arrived in Israel. The increase in construction is expected to be a source of friction in Mitchell’s negotiations with Israeli leaders.

Critics warned that the increase in construction is likely to damage the already fragile prospects for a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine.

"Every structure built in a settlement makes the two-state solution more difficult to achieve and further jeopardizes Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic country," said Debra DeLee, president of Peace Now’s sister organization Americans for Peace Now.

The report found that at least 1,257 new structures were built in West Bank settlements in 2008, up sharply from 800 in 2007. This figure did not include the 261 new structures built in illegal outposts in the West Bank.

Nearly 40 percent of the new structures were built east of the security barrier, many of them extending deep into the West Bank.

And despite the Israeli government’s pledge to crack down on the illegal outposts, the study found that "not a single real outpost was evacuated."

Additionally, the report found evidence that land confiscations were continuing to take place, contradicting the government’s stated policy.

Following the Annapolis peace conference in late 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged to freeze settlement construction and remove some existing settlements.

In November 2008, he announced that the government would cut off funding for illegal outposts—thereby admitting that it had continued to fund them up to that point.

The Peace Now report found that the Israeli government had encouraged the increase in settlement construction both through active aid and through non-enforcement of its stated policies.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. envoy Mitchell arrived in Jerusalem and met with leaders including Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad in Ramallah, and Likud party chief Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.

Although preliminary reports indicated that the aftermath of the war in Gaza was the primary topic under discussion at Wednesday’s meetings, the settlements are expected to be a continued sticking point going forward.

Mitchell served an earlier stint as Middle East peace envoy in 2001, after which his committee released a report that was harshly critical of Israeli settlement policies.

The 2001 Mitchell report called on Israel to "freeze all settlement activity, including the ‘natural growth’ of existing settlements." This call was taken up in the George W. Bush administration’s "road map" for the peace process, which formed the basis of the 2007 Annapolis conference.

Mitchell’s insistence on a settlement freeze as a precondition for the peace process led many right-leaning pro-Israel groups in the U.S. to oppose his recent selection as peace envoy. Abraham Foxman, the influential head of the Anti-Defamation League, stated that he was "concerned" about Mitchell’s "meticulously even-handed" approach to the region.

Nevertheless, in the eight years since Mitchell’s initial report, his calls for a halt to the settlement project have become a mainstream consensus view.

Olmert and his predecessor Ariel Sharon—who had been an original architect of the settlement project—both came to believe that it was likely to doom Israel if left unchecked.

Given the basic demographic trends, an Israeli state encompassing the West Bank and Gaza would soon have an Arab majority. This would force Israel to choose between becoming a secular and bi-national state with full political rights for all citizens, or an undemocratic state that denies full political rights to Arab residents.

It was partially this logic led Sharon to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and remove Israeli settlements there in 2005.

However, the challenge in the West Bank is much greater. There are now estimated to be over 285,000 settlers in the West Bank, many of them militantly opposed to a two-state solution. The Israeli government has generally paid lip service to the goal of curbing the West Bank settlers, but has been reluctant to crack down on them.

If Netanyahu becomes the next Israeli prime minister, as currently seems likely, he and Mitchell could be set to clash on the settlements issue.

Netanyahu has recently tacked to the center on the issue, telling Quartet envoy Tony Blair on Sunday that a Likud-led government would build no new settlements.

However, Netanyahu said that he would continue to permit "natural growth" of existing settlements—a qualification that strips his promise of much of its meaning.

Israel has not officially created any new settlements in over a decade, instead ascribing all settlement construction to "natural growth." It was this consideration that led both Mitchell’s 2001 report and Bush’s road map to explicitly forbid construction under the auspices of "natural growth."

Gershom Gorenberg, author of The Accidental Empire, a 2007 history of the settlements, urged Mitchell to stand firm against Netanyahu in an open letter published Wednesday in The American Prospect.

Netanyahu’s position is a "con," Gorenberg wrote. "You need to insist on [a full settlement freeze] publicly in the months ahead."

At the moment, however, none of the leading candidates for prime minister appears to have much appetite to confront the settlers. How much pressure Mitchell and the Obama administration are willing to exert on the Israeli government to do so will be one of the first tests of the U.S.-Israel relationship in the months ahead.

Daniel Luban writes for the Inter Press Service and is a contributor to PRA’s Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org/).

Citations

By Daniel Luban, "Israeli Settlements Expanding" Right Web with permission from Inter Press Service (Somerville, MA: PRA, 2009). Web location:
http://rightweb.irc-online.org/rw/4979.html Production Information:
Author(s): Right Web
Editor(s): Right Web
Production: Political Research Associates   IRC logo 1310 Broadway, #201, Somerville, MA   02144 | pra@publiceye.org

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, is a leading ”pro-Israel” hawk in Congress.


Brigette Gabriel, an anti-Islamic author and activist, is the founder of the right-wing group ACT! for America.


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.


Frank Gaffney, director of the hardline neoconservative Center for Security Policy, is a longtime advocate of aggressive U.S. foreign policies, bloated military budgets, and confrontation with the Islamic world.


Shmuley Boteach is a “celebrity rabbi” known for his controversial “pro-Israel” advocacy.


United against Nuclear Iran is a pressure group that attacks companies doing business in Iran and disseminates alarmist reports about the country’s nuclear program.


Huntsman, the millionaire scion of the Huntsman chemical empire, is a former Utah governor who served as President Obama’s first ambassador to China and was a candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

AIPAC has done more than just tolerate the U.S. tilt toward extreme and often xenophobic views. Newly released tax filings show that the country’s biggest pro-Israel group financially contributed to the Center for Security Policy, the think-tank that played a pivotal role in engineering the Trump administration’s efforts to impose a ban on Muslim immigration.


Print Friendly

It would have been hard for Trump to find someone with more extreme positions than David Friedman for U.S. ambassador to Israel.


Print Friendly

Just as the “bogeyman” of the Mexican rapist and drug dealer is used to justify the Wall and mass immigration detention, the specter of Muslim terrorists is being used to validate gutting the refugee program and limiting admission from North Africa, and Southwest and South Asia.


Print Friendly

Although the mainstream media narrative about Trump’s Russia ties has been fairly linear, in reality the situation appears to be anything but.


Print Friendly

Reagan’s military buildup had little justification, though the military was rebuilding after the Vietnam disaster. Today, there is almost no case at all for a defense budget increase as big as the $54 billion that the Trump administration wants.


Print Friendly

The very idea of any U.S. president putting his personal financial interests ahead of the U.S. national interest is sufficient reason for the public to be outraged. That such a conflict of interest may affect real U.S. foreign policy decisions is an outrage.


Print Friendly

The new US administration is continuing a state of war that has existed for 16 years.


RightWeb
share