Settlements not the issue
Op-ed: Arab rejectionism, not settlements, real obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace
Shoula Romano Horing
Here Obama goes again, asking Israel to extend a settlement construction freeze in the West Bank for another two months while demanding nothing from the Arabs. Two months seems an arbitrary number unless you remember the upcoming November elections.
It seems that Obama does not want to have another public confrontation with the Jewish state, till after the November elections, in order not to upset Jewish voters. Meanwhile, he is trying to temporarily appease and convince the Palestinians to stay in the negotiations until after the elections, when he will again start pressuring Israel for even more concessions.
Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that the US president is adopting the Palestinian point of view and recycling a mostly mythical controversy that settlements are the major obstacle to negotiations and peace in the Middle East? Those who believe this farce never visited the West bank as I have done, or they would realize that the settlements are physically a negligible issue and a cover-up and excuse for Arab Palestinian rejectionism.
The claim that settlement activity is an obstacle to peace because it will supposedly diminish the territory of a future Palestinian entity is baseless.
The amount of territory taken up by the built-up area of all 121 settlements in the West Bank, with approximately 290,000 residents, is estimated to be just 1.7% of the territory. Two thirds of the settlers reside in five major blocs, and half of the settlements have 500 or less settlers. Four of the blocks are very close to the 1949 armistice line (“Green Line”) and many of them are suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Ninety eight percent of the Palestinian population lives within roughly 40% of the West Bank, in six major cities and 450 villages. Consequently, 60% of the West Bank is empty of any buildup. You can drive for a long while in the West Bank and find no Jewish settlements or Arab cities, or people. Moreover, the settlements are a major source of jobs and income for the Palestinians.
Arab world’s ‘final solution’
The argument that settlements will undermine a future territorial compromise lost much of it force after Israel dismantled settlements in the Sinai in 1982 as part of its peace treaty with Egypt and unilaterally withdrew 9,000 Israeli settlers and dismantled all settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Moreover, for the last five years prior to the 10-month construction freeze , all Israeli governments, including the present one, have adhered to the guideline that there would be no new settlements or physical expansion of existing ones except for construction confined to the boundaries of existing settlements for “natural growth.”
It has been understood in the last decade by both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush that, in any final peace treaty, Israel will keep the major close-in blocs of settlements and compensate the Palestinians accordingly with land swaps from within Israel itself. President Clinton endorsed this in 2000 at Camp David and in 2001 at Taba, Egypt. President Bush endorsed this principle in a 2004.
During the last decade, the only obstacle to peace was the Palestinian leadership, who twice rejected the so called two-state solution. In fact, whenever an Israeli government has offered the Palestinians a sovereign state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, while agreeing to dismantle the majority of those “hated” settlements outside the major blocs, Palestinian leaders rejected the offer and never even made a counteroffer.
In 2001 in Taba, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, in the presence of President Clinton, offered this to Arafat, who rejected the offer and started the second Intifada, a campaign of terror that resulted in the death of over 1,000 Israelis.
In December 2008, Prime Minister Olmert, in the presence of President Bush, made Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an unprecedented peace proposal where the PA would receive an area equivalent to 100% of the West Bank, by swapping land inside Israel, and where Jerusalem would be divided, but Abbas rejected the offer and started a campaign of de-legitimization against Israel. It seems the Arab world still has only a one-state solution for the Middle East. It is a “final solution” that eliminates Israel altogether.
After the November elections, public confrontations with Israel, Obama dictates and baseless blame will intensify. The majority of Jews in the US, who voted for Obama, will have to decide who they need and support more, Israel and its people, or Obama and his agenda.
Shoula Romano Horing was born and raised in Israel. She is an attorney, a national speaker and a radio host in Kansas City, Mo.
Her blog: www.ohisrael.com