The Israeli authorities’ new plans allowing for the marketing of land and the construction of more than 2000 new units in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank should serve as a wakeup call for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. These announcements come shortly before Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem. It serves as an unfortunate reminder to Kerry that some officials in the Israeli government are intent on harming the peace negotiations which he labored for months to convene, even before they have started. It should also be a reminder to Kerry and the new U.S. Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk that any delay would serve those who are hostile to a two state solution.
The litmus test of Israeli sincerity in regards to peace with the Palestinians must be its settlement policy in the West Bank. No single policy sows more distrust among the Palestinians as the building of more and more houses on occupied land.Yossi Mekelberg
The litmus test of Israeli sincerity in regards to peace with the Palestinians must be its settlement policy in the West Bank. No single policy sows more distrust among the Palestinians as the building of more and more houses on occupied land. It is visible and offensive for many of them. They see how the land intended to form part of their future independent state is being gobbled up by Jewish settlements in which half a million settlers live. Secretary Kerry may want to learn from the experience of one of his predecessors James Baker, who in his efforts to convene the Madrid peace conference back in 1991 met an obstructive Israeli government led by Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir and the then-Housing Minister Ariel Sharon. In a similar shuttle diplomacy to Kerry’s, Baker was greeted every time he landed in Tel Aviv by an Israeli government announcement of the building of a new settlement. The George Bush Sr. Administration, in which he served, reacted in a way almost unprecedented in U.S.-Israel relations. Secretary Baker went before the typically Israel-friendly U.S. Congress and asserted that, “Nothing has made my job of trying to find Arab and Palestinian partners for Israel more difficult than being greeted by a new settlement every time I arrive.” He made it very clear that in his view settlement activity was the biggest obstacle for peace. The Bush administration did not stop at publicly reprimanding Israel, but also persuaded Congress to suspend $10 billion in loan guarantees, badly needed by Israel at the time to absorb nearly a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Many years later James Baker would criticise President Obama for not following a similar course of action and taking a tougher stance on Netanyahu’s settlement policies.