Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Settlement Illusion

There has been harsh criticism leveled at Israel for recently approving new settlements in the West Bank.

455 new housing units have been approved in various West Bank settlements prompting even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, speaking though his spokesman, to condemn the settlements as contrary to international law and the roadmap.

Nonetheless, the housing units have been approved, supposedly with the full knowledge of the US government and the US middle east peace envoy, and in addition to these housing units the Israeli Education Minister has recently promised to continue building schools in the settlements. All this has provoked comments from the PA that US credibility is at stake for their inability to force the Israeli government to stop construction.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials noted that--in what would seem to be in spite of US efforts--some Arab states would be inclined to normalization with Israel in exchange for a settlement freeze, but that a settlement freeze is not equal to full normalization of relations.

Amidst all this concern over the approval of new housing units, it seems that the units are not new at all. According to Ha'Aretz, most of these housing units already exist or are being constructed. That's not to say that all the condemnation is much ado about nothing, but it's much ado about something that has happened as long ago as 1999. The facts that these permits may have created already exist and have for years.

That this announcement was made about all these housing units being built, when internationally such an announcement is unhelpful and the facts already exist seems to indicate that the announcement was a domestic political move. The current Israeli government is likely merely appealing to the settler constituency by demonstrating that they are willing to help the settlers, despite the reality that nothing new has really been given.

It also exposes some interesting points about the value of settlements as a bargaining chip. It is true that the settlements are part of the road map and ought to be stopped. Nonetheless, the current Israeli government seems to be using a settlement freeze as a commodity to offer in negotiations. The Egyptian comments that a settlement freeze is not the same as normalization of relations but only an inclination towards such normalization will no doubt make the Israeli government somewhat less inclined to offer the freeze when all they may get for it is a possible change in attitude from certain, unnamed Arab states. Netanyahu is being asked to make a very difficult political decision in exchange for a possible intangible.

Following from this point is the question of US credibility in the region. If the US can be said to lose credibility if Israel doesn't freeze settlements, surely it also loses credibility if Arab states are not willing to normalize relations. The reality is that the US can apply pressure to foreign states, but it does not control the government of foreign states, neither Israeli nor Arab. Indeed the proposition that the US ought to be able to force Israel to do or not do something implies that Israel is somehow a colony of the US or under control of the US government, which is simply not true. It would also be a dangerous proposition to reinforce in the Arab world which sees Israel as illegitimate, and the impression that it is not sovereign, serves only to feed this perception.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

One doesn't normalize relations in exchange of a settlement freeze, but in exchange for a peace agreement. It's like asking Israel to allow the right of return in exchange of a stoppage of missile attacks.

It's preposterous.

A settlement freeze is a step towards peace, just like stopping missile attacks. A normalization of relations is the end game, a result of an official signed peace agreement.

I therefore don't understand how anyone can fault the Arab states in refusing to normalize relations in exchange of a paltry settlement "freeze".

Note that we are talking about a "freeze", not an outright stoppage, or reversal, or evacuation. I remind you that Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement only when all the settlements were removed from the Sinai.

I think both sides need to stop proposing preposterous ideas (knowing that they will be refused from the very start) if there is any hope for getting peace. Makes me believe that nobody really wants to have peace, just to show that they are talking about it and so they can point to the other side as the one who refused. Both sides do that.

A friend.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the first paragraph should have read:

"One doesn't normalize relations in exchange of a settlement freeze, but in exchange for a peace agreement. It's like asking Israel to allow the right of return in exchange of a [freeze] of missile attacks".

A friend

mrzee said...

"One doesn't normalize relations in exchange of a settlement freeze, but in exchange for a peace agreement."

Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed a peace agreement in 1993. A lot of good that did.

"The Government of the State of Israel and the P.L.O. team (in the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to the Middle East Peace Conference) (the "Palestinian Delegation"), representing the Palestinian people, agree that it is time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict, recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights, and strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process."
Oslo Declaration of Principles, Sept 13, 1993


"I remind you that Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement only when all the settlements were removed from the Sinai."

The Camp David Accords were signed in 1979, the last settlements were removed in 1982.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamit

Anonymous said...

mrzee:

I note that you are overly technical and exact with your second point, but surprisingly inaccurate and general with your first.

Regarding your first point: That was not a peace of agreement, but a stated intention to work towards achieving a peace agreement. In fact, a careful and thorough reading of the very passage you quote demonstrates that: "and STRIVE to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security AND ACHIEVE a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process". Furthermore, as the title of the document rightly claims, it is merely a declaration of principles, not of peace.

Regarding your second point: You are, as I mentioned previously, technically correct, however, the validity of my point remains, in that I meant to say that "I remind you that Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement only when [IT WAS AGREED BY ISRAEL THAT] all the settlements were [TO BE] removed from the Sinai."

The point is: The signature of a peace of agreement was predicated upon the removal of all settlements. Whether the PHYSICAL removal occurred before the agreement or at a reasonable time after is completely irrelevant, as long as they are removed within the framework of the agreement.

A friend

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I generally agree with the first comment that in legal terms, it's silly to talk about settlements. I think I've been fairly consistent in my distaste for them.

I meant to analyze this through the eyes of Netanyahu's government and the calculations they must be making. In their view, and I think in a negotiating context this is valid, the settlements, legal or not, are something Israel is being asked to give up. They are being asked to do or not to do and so it becomes a political chip that can be used in negotiations.

mrzee said...

Hi Anonymous,

Sorry to be so slow responding. Are we really supposed to believe that Israel transfers weapons to the PA without a peace treaty? That Israeli and Palestinian police do joint patrols without a peace treaty? That Chairman Abbas travels through Areas B and C of the West Bank using Israeli security, without a peace treaty?

The Declaration of Principles which I quoted previously was only one agreement and I didn't feel like quoting dozens of paragraphs from other documents. The Oslo Accords definitely comprise a Peace Agreement, which is not to be confused with a "Final Status" agreement which is where Jerusalem, refugees etc are to be dealt with.

Bye for now,
mrzee

Anonymous said...

Hello again Mrzee:

No worries about the delay. We are all busy.

As for your reply, I say this: Yes. That's exactly what you are to believe.

In fact, I point to this part of your comment: "That Chairman Abbas travels through Areas B and C of the West Bank using Israeli security, without a peace treaty?".

Frankly, I am baffled; your comment can almost, just almost, be used by someone who is arguing AGAINST the opinion that the Declaration of Principles is a Peace treaty. Areas B and C!? Of the West Bank no less! With Chairman Abbas needing ISRAELI SECURITY to get past the Israeli checkpoints between said Areas B and C. All these fine examples of Population control and segregation must be the proud creation and result of a Peace Treaty!

If that is so, then either (1) Palestinian negotiators are completely clueless and got the wool pulled over their eyes, or (2) are too corrupt and got paid off to accept a completely moronic peace treaty.

Areas B and C of the West Bank mean a Peace treaty... I fail to see your point, or the inference you make from the factual situations you refer to. I don't think the syllogism works very well.

However, I'd be interested to be pointed to documentary sources that state that the Declaration of Principles is a Peace treaty. I am willing to change my mind if it can be shown that I misunderstood the scope of the Declaration of Principles.

A friend.