Settlements Are the Biggest Obstacle to Peace

At some point I’d resolved to just ignore Chait’s writing on the Middle East, but this post really needs a rebuttal, so such is life. Chait is responding, somewhat critically, to a Wall Street Journal column regarding the latest dust-up between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government, involving the planned building of 1,600 new settlement homes in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem:

No, the settlements aren’t “the” key obstacle to peace. But they are an obstacle to peace. And with the most moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank in history, provocative moves like the one Netanyahu’s government undertook appear designed to undercut progress toward a peace agreement.

The Journal is right that any realistic peace deal will have to readjust the 1967 borders. But the readjustment works both ways. And you’re never going to be able to get a stable Palestinian government that can maintain or even reach a peace agreement without some kind of claim to shared control over Jerusalem — not the pre-1967 split, but something. That’s why continued expansion in east Jerusalem is so problematic.

The point is fair enough, on some level, but it needs to be said as many times as it can be said that, yes, the settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace. And in fact, Chait seems to understand why that’s the case in admitting that the 1967 borders will have to be readjusted, a process that will already prove extrememly difficult. As Israel expands their settlements even further, it will only get more difficult, and considering that the settlements in the West Bank are constructed in such a way as to cut the Palestinian West Bank into ribbons, leaving any sort of functioning state in the territory more or less impossible to imagine.

Chait’s contention that Netanyahu appears to be intentionally undercutting the peace process is also laughable. How in the world could any rational observer of the process not know that’s exactly Netanyahu’s goal? Netanyahu has repeatedly talked down the peace process, and he’s formed a government including the most extreme right-wing elements of Israeli politics (although Kadima deserves a large share of the blame for that). I’m at a loss as to why anyone would believe for a second Netanyahu cared about the peace process, in fact, I don’t see how anyone could assume any of the major Israeli parties were serious about a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.

The brazeness of the announcement of new development in East Jerusalem seems to have shocked Western media and policy makers, but it really shouldn’t have. Israel has been evicting Arab residents of the city for some time now to move Israelis in, and the government has barely concealed its intentions to develop even more territory in the West Bank. The only questions now are whether or not Israel is going to go ahead with a full expulsion of Arabs from East Jerusalem, and whether the US will ever muster the inclination to finally put an end to Israel’s destructive behavior before it’s truly too late.