Sunday, July 5, 2009

Israeli Settlements: The Red Button That Could Detonate and Destroy the Peace Process

Have you seen the map lately of the West Bank and its adjacent areas – the land on which the people of Palestine are expected to establish their nation? I did, and it looked like an odd shaped, badly cut slice of a Birthday cake that has been gnawed surreptitiously not by mice, but by rats. To some it might even look like a slice of Swiss cheese with giant holes carved out to create the ever-expanding and illegal Israeli settlements and outposts.

President Obama, to his credit, has been clear and unequivocal regarding his stance on these settlements: that they are against the International laws, and UN resolutions, and that they are an obstacle for peace in the region. These outposts and settlements do not conform to, nor comply with, the Roadmap for Peace, he has stated. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, too, has been unequivocal regarding these settlements. She has said curtly, “We want to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions… That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.” Mr. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, meets mostly behind closed doors with Israeli leaders, only to emerge to shake hand with them and pose for the press photographers with a bright smile on his face, as if every thing is hunky-dory.

It’s obvious that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration loves Palestinian ancestral lands a lot more than it is willing to grant justice for Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has been adamant from the very beginning regarding the construction of more housing in the settlements. “We will not freeze the settlements,” has been his mantra. But the intense pressure he has been feeling, even from Israel’s traditional allies - Britain, France, Canada and Australia - and the universal criticism he has been facing, regarding the settlements and the encroachment of Palestinian ancestral lands, have had an impact on him, and his feet seem to be buckling a bit, and he has revised and modified his mantra to “I will agree to a temporary freeze for three to six months.” But the question remains: What will happen at the end of six months? I am astonished that few major magazines and newspapers have asked this pertinent question. Will the construction of houses in the West Bank and the demolition of houses belonging to Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in East Jerusalem continue after the three month freeze expires? Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak had approved very recently the construction of 50 new houses as part of a cluster of 1450 houses soon to be built in the Adam settlement; but this fact was leaked to the press only after Mr. Barak returned to Israel after meeting with President Obama in Washington. When Mr. Barak was in Washington, he was silent regarding these fifty houses he had approved.

Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Ehud Barak have been using euphemisms and code words and fancy terminology to describe the actual and also the anticipated settlement activities: “accommodating natural growth”, “vertical growth, building vertically, adding more floors”, and “building next to or near the existing houses, but within the boundary of the established settlements”; but the boundaries of the settlements haven’t been clearly established, and they are always subject to interpretations and change. Also, illegal and unauthorized outposts which were dismantled by the military, under court orders, magically reappear within days after being dismantled.

The central fact regarding the settlements is indisputable. As a group, the settlements are akin to a glaring red button which, when pressed, could detonate and demolish the entire peace process. It’s beyond dispute that for peace to sprout, the settlements must be frozen; and for peace to endure, the settlements must remain dormant. In the last eight years of the Bush administration, seeing an unwavering friend in the White House, the Israelis went on a settlement building spree, with the aid of billions of dollars that the US happily gave; and they have been brazenly waltzing and tap-dancing around this red button. But the old band is gone now, and a new band is now playing an alien and unaccustomed tune, with a distinct Saudi Arabian lilt, which the Israelis have already felt as grating upon their pampered ears. But sooner or later, the new band, too, shall stop playing the startling and Middle-Eastern sounding music, and the settlement expansion party will be over. All parties do inevitably end. And when the music stops and the dancing ends it’s time that the dancers look in the huge mirror on the wall and ask the question, “Do we really want peace?”
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

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