Monday, December 31, 2007

Israel, Settlements and the "P" Word

Israel, Settlements and the “P” Word


Gidon D. Remba
January 15, 2008

As Bush began his eight-day visit last week to Israel, the West Bank and allied Arab states, the rhetorical fireworks heralded his arrival. In advance of his landing at Ben Gurion airport, Bush assured Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that "I believe the time is ripe. There will be a comprehensive [Israeli-Palestinian] peace signed by the end of this year."

In his joint press conference with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Bush bluntly reminded his listeners that Israeli settlement "outposts, yes, they ought to go. Look, I mean, we've been talking about it for four years. The agreement was, get rid of outposts, illegal outposts, and they ought to go." In the days before his departure, Bush told Reuters in an interview at the White House: "I will talk about Israeli settlement expansion, about how that is, that can be, you know, an impediment to success," and "The unauthorized outposts for example need to be dismantled, like the Israelis said they would do."

Ha'aretz reported that "Olmert said that the president asked for his commitment to an end to the confiscation of land in the West Bank, and end to the construction of new settlements, and the evacuation of illegal outposts." Olmert admitted in an interview before Bush's Israel touchdown that "Every year all the settlements in all the territories [of the West Bank] continue to grow. There is a certain contradiction in this between what we're actually seeing and what we ourselves promised. We have obligations related to settlements and we will honor them." Ha'aretz told it like it is in a lead editorial titled "Bush, Accessory After the Facts," confronting us with the reality that the so-called "outposts" are settlements: "With its own hands, Israel has been rendering the two-state solution irrelevant, while declaring to all and sundry that this is the only possible solution."

Olmert recently admitted to the Jerusalem Post that Israel needs to internalize that even its supportive friends on the international stage conceive of the country's future on the basis of the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem divided. Realistic Dove blogger Dan Fleshler observed that "The idea that Jerusalem was the beginning and end of Zionism, that Israel could not exist without having full sovereignty over the entire city emerged only after 1967 and the growth of a religious fanaticism and aggressive nationalism that had more in common with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood than the founding fathers of Zionism. And so, guarding the holy sites has become a nightmare and Jerusalem itself has become a dangerous flashpoint. The insanity of a few religious fanatics—Jewish, Muslim or Christian—has the potential of transforming a local conflict into a religious war with incalculable consequences."

A skeptical Yossi Alpher wrote that "Bush is not coming to make a serious effort to advance a substantive peace process. This visit, like Bush's Israeli-Palestinian peace process in general, looks to be all hype and superficiality." Alpher remains unimpressed by Bush's rhetorical fireworks: "There is one thing Bush is apparently not coming to do. He will not put heavy pressure on Olmert, publicly or in private, to start carrying out his roadmap Phase I obligations and energetically remove outposts." Former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh (Labor) told Dan Fleshler last year that "he believed U.S. pressure on Israel was justified when Israel was not living up to its obligations to the U.S. ...Israelis would support or at least not object too strongly if the U.S. prodded Israel to keep the promises made in the road map."

At Camp David I in 1978, President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, had warned Prime Minister Menachem Begin that if he refused to relinquish the Sinai settlements, it would be "difficult for him to support Israel's requests for political, economic and military support." Begin relented and the Camp David Peace Accords were signed.

But Carter applied significant pressure on both sides to bring them both to their common goal. When Sadat threatened to leave Camp David in exasperation over the summit's prolonged failure to close the gaps, Carter pointedly told him that if he left, it would be the end of his relationship with the United States and the end of the peace process. Sadat, understanding the score, stayed until agreement was reached.

Republican Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford had done much the same just a few years before during Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's first term of office, using a "reassessment" of US military deliveries to Israel to encourage him to agree to the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement after the Yom Kippur War.

In the early nineties, President George H. W. Bush held up billions of dollars in loan guarantees to Israel when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir refused to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank. Shamir's clash with the U.S. over settlements turned many Israelis to favor Rabin in the next election, leading to his victory, enabling Rabin's pursuit of peace with the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords.

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Democrat, agrees with Bush that "once momentum is generated it could even lead to peace this year.” But he cautions that “Only the US can do it; and that demands action from the president, not just more words." Today, one still hears many American Jews and their leaders talk as if U.S. pressure on the Israeli government, not only on the Palestinian and Arab leadership, is a cardinal sin. In fact, it’s a necessary ingredient for making a secure and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is not in Israel’s best interests for us to continue to pretend otherwise.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel. His commentary is available at

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