After the Talk, Walking the Walk
Posted by rabbibrian on June 9, 2009
President Obama’s inspiring speech in Cairo articulated a new vision of the relationship between the U.S and the Islamic world and of the role of the United States in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Now the truly difficult part begins. Now it is time to “walk the walk”
For decades various Israeli governments have continued building settlements on the West Bank and around Jerusalem. When challenged, the Israeli government often responded with obfuscations about “outposts” and “natural growth.” While officially committed to a peace process the Israeli government has relentlessly continued to create facts on the ground. During the Oslo peace process, the number of settlers on the West Bank doubled. U.S. government response to this in the past has been, to say the least, very weak.
Aaron David Miller wrote:
“In 25 years of working on this issue for six secretaries of state, I can’t recall one meeting where we had a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that settlement activity-including land confiscation, bypass roads and housing demolitions-does to the peacemaking process.”
In light of this history it was a relief to hear Secretary of State Clinton say recently that President Obama told Israel’s Prime Minister that he wants a complete freeze on settlements, “not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.”
U.S. policy has always been that settlements are illegal and an obstruction to peace. Just getting the the Israeli government to abide by American policy will be a big change. I fear that the Israeli government will continue to deceive Americans by focusing on the “painful” concessions of removing one or several “outposts” which they should not have permitted, subsidized and promoted in the first place. There must a complete freeze on all settlement activity.
This is only the first step which must be followed by serious negotiation about the dismantling of settlements, not only in the West Bank, but also in and around Jerusalem. The goal of the settlements is to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. Without the dismantling of many of the settlements, the two state solution is not a possibility.
In 1996 I participated with Israeli peace and human rights groups in a demonstration against plans announced by the then newly-elected Netanyahu government for a settlement in Har Homa, south of Jerusalem. We stood opposite a beautiful wooded hill, one of the few open green areas in Jerusalem. Last year, in November I visited the Palestinian town of Bet Sahur from where we saw the hill covered in buildings. No more trees, no green area, just another large neighborhood built for Jews reaching almost to the border of the Palestinian town. Now Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of Israel again. Will the U.S. follow through on the commitment to put an end to this unjust settlement policy, itself an act of violence, that perpetuates the conflict? Will we walk the walk?
You can find reliable information about the settlements on the West Bank on the Peace Now Settlement Watch website.
For information on Jewish settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem check out Ir Amim.