I know this is a loaded topic and all, but it’s a rainy Monday and it has been in the news a lot so I have decided to opine a little bit on Israel and Palestine – specifically, the end of the settlement construction freeze and what that means for the peace process.
I will try my best to stay on this smaller topic without too many digressions…I did write an entire honors thesis on Hamas so I know I can get a little wordy… :).
As a quick overview, settlements are areas in the West Bank and Gaza where Israeli settlers have formed communities on land that is generally accepted as land that would be part of Palestine in a two-state solution. Of course, the obvious problem is that if Israelis are living there and building communities, then they would not likely be willing to give up their homes and lives to move if the land were to become part of Palestine. More likely would be that Israel would take the position that these lands should be part of Israel because it would be heartless and impractical to move all of these people from their homes….ironic, huh? Essentially, the settlements are a land grab and have been deemed illegal by the World Court.
Quote from UN Chief Ban Ki-moon: “The world has condemned Israel’s settlement plans in east Jerusalem,” Ban told a news conference after his brief tour. “Let us be clear. All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and must be stopped.”
So, for 10 months, there was a “freeze” on any construction in the settlements. Even this freeze had loopholes and did not stop all construction. However, for the most part it was seen as a goodwill gesture. Now that the freeze has expired and was not extended, it leaves Abbas in a tricky position. There is the argument that he loses credibility if he continues peace talks with Israel, as Israel seems to be undermining the process and making the facts on the ground inconsistent with peace proposals. If Abbas continues, Palestinians may be further upset with him and feel as though he is pandering too much to Israel and America. This could then translate into broader support for Hamas, which controls Gaza. Or even if support is not shifted to Hamas, it may simply just dwindle and leave Palestinians feeling even more helpless and less confident in their government.
However, if Abbas pulls out of the talks, then Israel can continue what they are doing and will be able to rightly say that they did not stop the peace process – the Palestinians backed out. Even though Israel would have essentially forced Abbas to do so, they would be technically correct. It would be nice to think that if Abbas pulled out of the talks, then there would be international pressure on Israel to freeze the settlement building so that talks could resume. Unfortunately, the international community seems unwilling to put pressure on Israel to do anything. Instead, the general theme seems to be to express “disappointment” in Israel. This is diplomatic fluff and means nothing. With continued monetary and military aid, Israel has no reason to care if America or any other Western nation is “disappointed” with their policies.
So, if you are Abbas – what to do? It is truly unfortunate that Abbas would have to sacrifice a little bit of integrity to be able to participate in a peace process that is unlikely to produce any real outcomes. But what’s the alternative? To not try at all? In the end, I do think that it is best for Abbas to continue with the peace talks. I also think that it is crucial for Hamas to be engaged in the process as well. In an ideal world, the U.S. would do more than express disappointment and instead would use its assistance to Israel as leverage to help persuade Netanyahu to continue the moratorium on settlement building, return to the peace process and actually try to achieve something. An even more savvy approach would be to include Hamas. Hamas won elections in 2006 for a reason and to not respect those outcomes was not only ridiculous from a democracy-supporting standpoint, but was also incredibly blind to the realities for Palestinian people.
Now, if we could just get people to care a little more and become a little more educated, then maybe peace would have a tiny chance. In the meantime, I hope for the best and am crossing my fingers that the extreme opinions on either side of this won’t de-rail an already slow-moving, dysfunctional train and ruin the chances, yet again, for the majority of the people living in that region that just want to live in peace.