Monday, July 05, 2010

US to press Binyamin Netanyahu to extend freeze on settlements.

Barack Obama is to push Netanyahu to extend his 10 month ban on settlement building in the West Bank in the hopes that this will make peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians more likely.

Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, will come under intense pressure on Tuesday to extend his 10-month freeze on the building of settlements in the West Bank when he meets President Barack Obama in Washington – amid warnings from the Israeli right that they will vigorously oppose such a move.

Despite the moratorium, building in settlements has continued in the past seven months thanks to loopholes and violations. Preparations are under way for a construction boom this autumn.

Obama is expected to press hard for a continuation of the ban in the knowledge that large-scale settlement expansion would imperil the fragile "proximity" talks between Israel and the Palestinians. White House aides last week made it clear that the president wants to "capitalise on the momentum" provided by the freeze.

Obama's task of finding a way to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians has been made infinitely harder by the very fact that Netanyahu is currently leading Israel. Netanyahu, for all his talk of peace, is simply not interested in making the kind of deals needed for peace to be even possible. He thinks that Judea and Samaria belong to Israel, and every move he makes is tempered by that belief.

And that belief is evident in the public statements of everyone that he has chosen to surround himself with.

Israel's combative foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman – a settler himself – has publicly urged Netanyahu to resist pressure to extend the freeze, saying concessions to Palestinians have not brought results. September would pose a "big test" for Israel, he said.

At least two other members of Netanyahu's inner cabinet of seven have made their position clear. "We will renew building when the moratorium ends," said Moshe Ya'alon. "There is no chance that Netanyahu will extend the freeze," said Benny Begin.

Last week, leaders of the settlers warned that they would launch an "unprecedented struggle" if they were not permitted to resume building.

"If Netanyahu returns from the US with another commitment to a freeze, he will encounter an unprecedented response of settlers who will hound him no matter where he goes," they said in a statement.

Settlers' organisations have taken advertisements in the Israeli press, accusing the prime minister of "trampling on" the settlements. And Settlement Watch, an Israeli organisation, said that preparations are being made for a massive construction boom this autumn on the assumption the moratorium will be lifted.

"There are approved plans for between 40,000 and 50,000 housing units waiting," said Hagit Ofran. "The only thing they need is for the mayor [of each settlement] to sign the permit. On 26 September, those mayors will have a big pile of permits on their desks."

The truth is that people like Lieberman and Netanyahu do not want results, certainly not the kind of results - in terms of peace - that the rest of us are seeking.

They want land, nothing else.

Obama needs to get tough with these guys. Everything which they are doing is illegal. There is not a country on Earth which recognises these settlements.

Obama should emphasise this as he insists that all building must stop.

The argument that settlement freezes do not result in peace talks is a red herring. The settlements are illegal. Obama should not fall into the trap of arguing whether or not the freeze resulted in talks.

He should stick to pointing out what is legal and what is not.

Click here for full article.

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