They Say, We Say: "The U.S. should get Israel to agree to limit settlement activity to construction inside the blocs only."
We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.
You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.
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Are settlements really a problem?
The U.S. has for too long wasted its political capital attacking Israel over settlement construction in areas everyone knows Israel will always keep. The more pragmatic, pro-peace policy would be for the U.S. to get Israel to agree to limit settlement activity to construction inside the blocs only. Israel agreeing to limit settlement construction to areas inside the settlement blocs would remove a huge and unnecessary irritant from U.S.-Israel relations. It would also be a huge concession by Israel that would prove to the Palestinians and the world that Israeli is serious about peace.
Some in both Israel and the U.S. have adopted the narrative that confining settlement construction to the blocs would demonstrate an Israeli commitment to peace and the two-state solution. Such narratives are either mistaken or disingenuous, grounded in the view that Israel and/or the U.S. can dictate to the Palestinians what they “need” or must accept in a permanent status agreement. It is precisely this kind of thinking that has continually compromised the ability of U.S. negotiators to act as effective brokers for peace, and that has allowed Israel to get away with insisting that it wants a negotiated solution while undertaking unilateral actions on the ground that are designed to predetermine the outcome permanent status talks.
Supporters of this narrative often cite President George W. Bush’s April 14, 2004 letter to then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as validation of their position, In that letter, President Bush stated that “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Notably, those citing this letter generally omit mention of the fact that in the preceding sentence, President Bush stated that any agreement to this effect “should emerge from negotiations between the parties” and in the next sentence added the caveat that "any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities"[emphasis added].
Those omitted lines are the crux of the matter, because giving a green light to any Israeli settlement construction outside of the context of an agreement with the Palestinians contradicts not only what Israel and the Palestinians have previously agreed to, but also the position of every U.S. Administration, from 1967 through at least 2016. Doing so would also be antithetical to the re-starting of any negotiating process that can lead to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not simply a matter of rigid principles but of impact on the ground and on political realities: imposing on the Palestinians a policy whereby Israel is permitted to build in “settlement blocs” would directly threaten the possibility for ever achieving a peace agreement with the Palestinians and, in parallel, the ability for there to ever be established a viable, contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel.
For Israel to today exploit “settlement blocs” to impose new rules on the game and take huge areas of the West Bank off the negotiating table, contradicts the fundamental concept of a negotiated solution. It also discloses to the world the cynicism and disingenuousness behind Israel’s rejection of international actions aimed at maintaining the distinction between Israel and settlements – rejection that has taken the form of outraged claims that the world is seeking to “impose a solution” on Israel.
As for the U.S., a shift in policy to green light Israeli construction in “settlement blocs” would concretely undermine the chances of reaching an agreement on the ground. Politically, it would deprive already weakened pro-diplomacy, anti-armed-struggle Palestinian leaders of their last shred of legitimacy. It would likely end the land-for-peace effort that began in Madrid more than two decades ago, setting the stage for even greater violence than we are seeing today. Likewise, it would be a boon to one-staters of all stripes, including hard-line Palestinians, post-Zionist Israelis, and the BDS movement, who would join Israeli hardliners in celebrating the end of the land-for-peace, two-state era. Such a policy shift would also directly harm the interests and credibility of the United States, putting the U.S. at odds with international consensus and international law settlements, and marking the end of the ability of the U.S. to act in any way as an honest broker of peace efforts.