Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Setting Peter Beinart Straight on Settlements and Peace

The following quote by Peter Beinart is making the rounds, and deserves a response:
So let’s get this straight. When Netanyahu agrees to a settlement moratorium, it’s a sign of his commitment to peace. And now that he has let the moratorium end? It’s still a sign of his commitment to peace because, as AIPAC now insists, negotiations must proceed without preconditions. It’s back to “the problem isn’t settlements.” To be labeled a champion of peace by the American Jewish establishment, it turns out, a prime minister of Israel only really has to do one thing: be prime minister of Israel.”
I'll be happy to clarify it for you, Peter. When Netanyahu agreed to a settlement moratorium, it was a sign of his commitment to the US-Israeli relationship, not to peace. Netanyahu understood, early on, that President Obama's demand that Israel freeze growth in the settlements would not be conducive to peace efforts, but would embolden the Palestinians into even making more extreme demands. It was only out of a desire to preserve Israel's special relationship with the United States, and to deliver President Obama a "win" which he could leverage with the Arab states to begin normalizing relations with Israel, that a limited moratorium was agreed upon.

Instead of seizing what was a remarkable, unilateral concession by Israel to immediately begin final negotiations, the Palestinians spent nine of the ten months of the building freeze bemoaning how the Americans had pushed them into extremist demands from which it was politically impossible to withdraw. Under heavy American and European pressure, they then proceeded to do what they had earlier claimed was politically impossible and joined negotiations, knowing full well that the looming expiration of the building freeze would provide a justification to derail diplomacy and avoid making compromises on final status issues. Perhaps, too, they were (and are) hoping to force another showdown between Israel and the US over a resurgent settlement issue.

It is not AIPAC, but the Obama Administration itself which is now growing increasingly irritated with Palestinian demands, and is forcefully urging that negotiations continue with or without a settlement freeze. None of this, the last two years of conflict and failure, would have been necessary had Obama insisted on direct negotiations at the outset of his presidency, instead of focusing on the symbolic non-issue of Jewish settlements. That Netanyahu foresaw these developments, and acted to insulate the US-Israeli relationship from naive American diplomacy, confident that the Palestinians would drive the Americans back into Israel's corner, speaks to his leadership.

It is becoming increasingly clear that eliciting unilateral concessions from Israel - concessions that Israel has already accepted upon itself under the terms of a final settlement - accomplishes little for the prospects of peace. At Camp David, Annapolis and now under Obama's stewardship, successive Israeli Prime Ministers, and the Israeli people, have committed themselves to the internationally recognized parameters of peace. These parameters, while obligating Israel to relinquish territory, also require the Palestinians to renounce all claims against the Jewish state, and compromise on Jerusalem and refugees. In each cycle of negotiations, American and European pressure is brought to bear on Israel, and Israel reiterates and accepts its obligations. To date, however, and under a variety of excuses, Palestinian obligations under the parameters of peace are met with diversions, obfuscations and rejection by both the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people. In the interest of a final settlement, it is time that the full weight of American and European pressure is brought to bear against those Palestinian demands which are incompatible with the parameters of peace. Only then, when the Palestinian government and people accept their responsibilities, will progress towards a final peace be achieved.
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