Monday, September 20, 2010

Freeze Settlements . . . and Freeze Lieberman

Superb essay by Akiva Eldar in this morning's Haaretz, in which he suggests that Israeli PM Netanyahu remove Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister (who is, by the way, as Eldar notes, the world's only foreign minister "who goes to bed every night and rises every morning outside his country's sovereign territory") and reach out to Tzipi Livni and the Kadima party to create a new governing coalition that might (and I emphasize, MIGHT) get a deal done with Mahmud Abbas.  Eldar conveniently provides some significant history as well:
The demand to suspend settlement building is no excuse - it's as legitimate a position as the Palestinians can have. Why should they relinquish a condition that has the support of the entire world, with the sole exception of Israel? Nor is freezing construction an Israeli "gesture" - in its May 2003 decision to adopt the Middle East road map Israel committed itself to freezing all settlement activity (including natural growth ) and dismantling outposts established since March 2001. The document states that the settlement issue would be addressed only during final-status negotiations, with the exception of illegal settlements and outposts, which would be removed. Nonetheless, settlement construction has continued, and outposts have both proliferated and expanded.

In November 2003 the road map was passed with UN approval, obligating Israel to freeze construction entirely and raze outposts. All 15 members of the Security Council, including the United States (during the administration of George W. Bush, not Barack Obama ), voted in favor of Resolution 1515. A few days later, while visiting Britain, Bush called on Israel to freeze settlement building, evacuate unauthorized outposts and end the daily humiliation of the Palestinians. Settlement construction continued, and the outposts increased and expanded.

In November 2007 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas acceded to Bush's request to attend the Annapolis Conference, which sought to start negotiations toward a final-status agreement. Talks went on until the fall of 2008, and meanwhile, building in the settlements continued and outposts flourished.

On November 26 of last year, following intense pressure from Washington (not as a gesture to the Palestinians, or out of deference to the government's obligations under UN resolutions ), Israel issued a 10-month freeze order. On January 26, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai wrote to Meretz chairman Haim Oron listing the 29 settlements in which construction violations were found.
. . .
. . . one of which is the settlement in which Lieberman himself resides.

If anything, Eldar's essay reminds us that despite all the columns by all the George Will types who harangue the American public with tales of the evil and devious Palestinians, it is the Israelis who have consistently violated agreements to stop building settlements in the West Bank (and who, for that matter, keep kicking Palestinians out of their East Jerusalem homes and moving religious settlers in).  In so doing, they have nurtured tremendous anger among a long-victimized Palestinian population, many of whom turned to Hamas (an organization that Israel itself nurtured during the late 1980s as a foil to Yasser Arafat's secularist-nationalist al-Fatah) as a more credible resistance to Israel's ongoing forcible colonization of their homeland .  To a great extent, the Israeli government has no one but itself to blame for empowering Hamas and reducing moderates like Mahmud Abbas to caricatures of effective leadership.

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