June 7, 2009
Unsettling: How Obama is using the settlement issueBy Richard N. Weltz
The matter of Israeli settlements in territory captured and under its control as a result of the 1967 war has very suddenly been pushed into the spotlight by President Obama and, even more glaringly, but his henchwoman, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Some of what are called "settlements" are merely small outposts, checkpoints, or a group of squatters who've set up housekeeping illegally under Israeli law. Others, however, are relatively large, legal under Israeli law, and have been expanding -- in construction, if not in land area -- to accommodate the "natural growth" that occurs when people marry and have children.
In the view of some -- but I don't think a majority -- of Israelis, all of the land area known as the West Bank, or by the traditional names Judea and Samaria, belongs to the Jewish people; and, therefore, any and all Jews have a right to settle there in any spot they choose. A contrasting view, which I believe is held by an Israeli majority, is that an eventual will be reached creating some sort of Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; but it won't be configured along the old 1949 borders.
Instead, it is expected that any borders between Israel and a newly-created Palestinian nation will retain for Israel all of Jerusalem, the major recognized "settlements" and areas connecting them to the rest of Israel contiguously, and will be configured so as to provide optimal defensive security for the Jewish State -- which the 1949 borders certainly did not. It is also contemplated that some areas of Israel proper may be "traded" to the Palestinians in exchange for land needed to accomplish the aforesaid purposes.
The West Bank, of course, was never any sort of Palestinian nation, but was occupied by Jordan until 1967, when an alliance of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, with the backing of other Arab states, forced Israel into an armed conflict --- the result of which was an Israeli victory that reclaimed the areas of Jerusalem and the West Bank that had for so long been occupied by Jordan. Jordan, significantly, has never made further claim to any of the territory it lost in the 1967 Six-Day War. Only those Jordanians who now call themselves Palestinians make such a claim.
The liberation of all of Jerusalem and the establishment of certain settlements in the newly freed-up areas was intended to create "facts on the ground" which would facilitate establishment of new borders when and if an agreement should be reached to create a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel.
This strategy was well understood by the United States; and a series of administrations gave only lip service to demands for Israeli withdrawal or destruction of the settlements. Until now.
President Obama, a man of Muslim roots and sympathies, surrounded himself with advisers such as Powers, Rice, Mitchell, Malley, and others not terribly sympathetic to Israel's objectives and selected as his Secretary of State a woman who would no longer be dependent on Jewish votes and goodwill for her official power.
This gang, eager to appease the Muslim world with foolish utopian ideas of their own, wasted little time in cracking down hard on Israel by making repeated and strenuous demands for an immediate cessation to any and all settlement activity. As noted in The New York Times,
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is deliberately being put on the spot, for the Obama administration understands full well that neither politically nor practically can natural growth of existing legal settlements be halted. Additional new settlements can be banned; existing settlements can be prevented from geographic expansion; new settlers can be kept out; but the government of Israel can hardly demand that its citizens already living within the settlements stop marrying, having children, and renovating their housing to accommodate these events.
Moreover, it appears that oral understandings between Israel and the Bush administration are now being denied and/or betrayed by the Obamians. "Natural growth," explained The Washington Post, "refers to population expansion as a result of births, adoptions and the like -- a position successive Israeli governments have rejected, though it is an Israeli obligation in the 2003 peace plan known as the ‘road map.' The Bush administration accommodated Israeli concerns with a secret understanding that allowed for growth in settlements that Israel hopes to keep in any peace deal with the Palestinians." [emphasis added]
Although the present administration seeks to deny that the Israeli settlement strategy was fully known to and at least tacitly approved by the preceding administration, it is at best dissembling for its own not-so-wholesome purposes. Elliott Abrams, who served as the deputy national security adviser overseeing Near East and North African affairs in the George W. Bush administration, was intimately involved in the issue, and he states, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post:
Abrams goes on to explain:
Small wonder the Times reported that "Mr. Netanyahu said Israel ‘cannot freeze life in the settlements, ‘calling the American demand ‘unreasonable'."
So, what are we to make of this sudden and impossible demand made by Obama of Netanyahu, in denial and contravention of behind-the-scenes agreements with the Bush administration that were relied upon by Israel?
To answer that question, one must also consider that Mr. Obama has also rejected the hard-line policies toward Iran of the Bush administration in favor of a utopian "unclenched fist" approach offering direct engagement without concession or preconditions; and he has linked the hoped-for success of this strategy with establishment of a Palestinian state. Which, in turn, he has linked partly to an Israeli settlement "freeze" that cannot happen.
Can anyone define the word "scapegoat"?