Americans for Peace Now (APN) today issued the following response to the White House's statement on Israeli settlements in the West Bank:
While some may view it as positive that President Trump is paying attention to the Israeli government's aggressive settlement construction push, the statement issued yesterday by the White House should be understood for what it is: a dangerous and unprecedented retreat from and reframing of longstanding bipartisan U.S. policy on settlements, including under presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Specifically, the White House statement that settlements are not an impediment to peace defies credulity. Since 1967, American administrations – Democratic and Republican – have used varying linguistic formulations to talk about settlements, including referring to settlements as an "obstacle to peace," "illegal," and "illegitimate." Common to all of these formulations was clear recognition of the fact that Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is inconsistent with the goal of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. This recognition derives not from a political ideology but from reality: the settlement enterprise was conceived from the start with the goal of preventing Israel from ever relinquishing land to the Palestinians in the context of any peace agreement -- a goal that remains the guiding force behind settlement efforts through the present day.
Only in an "alternative facts" reality can such a movement -- explicitly designed to impede a peace agreement -- be characterized as not an impediment to peace. Settlements consume land on which a Palestinian state would need to be established and grow, they disrupt Palestinian contiguity and development, and they create political facts on the ground - thousands of Israeli citizens who would need to be evacuated under any agreement. In short, settlements are not merely an impediment to peace, they are a chief obstacle to keeping alive today even the possibility of peace for the future.
Moreover, the White House statement signals an alarming shift away from long-held U.S. policy in its suggestion that construction inside the "current borders" of settlements is not problematic. This suggestion defies reality. While the built-up area of settlements today cumulatively represents only around 1% of the land of the West Bank, the settlements include within their "borders" around 10 times that amount of land, and even more land is included within the borders of the settlement Regional Councils. In short, granting Israel a license to build within the "current borders" of settlements opens the door for settlement expansion that outstrips - in terms of number of units and settlers and the amount of land they consume - everything achieved by the settlers over the past 50 years, and many times over.
And finally, the White House statement suggests that President Trump is holding off on adopting a policy on settlements until he consults with Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month. This suggestion is spectacularly irresponsible, sending a message to Israel, to U.S. allies in the Middle East and to the world that the Trump Administration is forming policies relating to key U.S. national security interests based not on U.S. interests and goals, but on the practices and policies of foreign governments.