[from the September 26 Meretz USA e-newsletter]
“Israel’s settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground and improved the atmosphere for talks. And our position on this issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium should be extended.” — President Obama to the UN General Assembly, last week.
By the time you read this column, on, or after, September 26, we should know whether the 10-month moratorium on new Israeli construction in the West Bank (except East Jerusalem), set to expire today, has been extended, in line with President Obama’s explicit and public request at the UN.
Alternatively: A face-saving compromise deal might be worked out. Or, in the worst-case scenario, the just-renewed peace talks might soon begin to founder in the wake of resurgent Israeli settlement expansion. As I write on September 22, erev Sukkot, however, there is no way of knowing.
But, regardless of developments over the next few days, it is worthwhile considering Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent justification for restarting settlement construction amid Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In a press briefing on September 21, Netanyahu reasoned as follows:
“Peace talks have been going on for 17 years, even when there was construction in the West Bank.”
The Prime Minister’s statement was historically accurate, of course.
But the Prime Minister wasn’t only reciting a fact. He was also trying to convince the world that settlement expansion is innocuous, and represents no obstacle to peace.
A review of the 17 years cited by Netanyahu can help us determine whether that’s indeed the case.