The Significance of the Israeli Settlements Freeze

Why would anyone want to enter into negotiations for a settlement of anything in which he had to beg the other party to participate? Or even more so in which he had to give real concessions to the other party just to sit at the same table?

What can possibly come from such negotiations?

Parties enter negotiations when they want to settle a conflict in whole or in part. Sometimes a party does not seek a settlement of anything but wishes to extract further concessions.

The more one desires a settlement, the more he will be taken advantage of. It is for this reason that parties should never show how anxious they are for a settlement. The right posture is to show a reluctance to negotiate.

Netanyahu violated all these axioms, begged for peace, and made unilateral concessions. Now that the long-awaited direct talks have begun, Israel appears desperate for a settlement, and the PA appears interested only in what it can get for nothing.

Already the PA is conditioning its participation on the continuation of the freeze when it expires on September 26, 2010. It is appropriate to understand what is at stake in whether the freeze continues or not.

If the parties believe they can settle the dispute in one year or even two, then whatever can be built within that time span, assuming no freeze, will in no way hinder or impact on the agreement.

To date, the PA has shown no desire to get a state. Their only agenda is to destroy Israel, sooner or later. They feel time is on their side with no downside. With the support of Israel and the West, their economy is booming, and their financial support keeps flowing. They care nothing about alleviating the plight of their brethren in the refugee camps. But they do care that they not be resettled around the world, as this would remove one justification for the struggle. They don't even want the IDF to get out of the West Bank, as they need the IDF to prevent Hamas from taking over. So clearly they have nothing to gain from a settlement and perhaps much to lose. They can only get a demilitarized state that they care nothing for; they would have to make painful concessions on the demand of return; and the PA leadership may get killed in the process or get overthrown by Hamas.

Israel, on the other hand, is being demonized and delegitimized in the absence of a settlement, so the pressure is on them. But there are limits to what Israel will concede to end the attacks. Israel and her friends have mounted a counterattack to delegitimize the delegitimizers, and they are confident of success. Leading the fight are Im Tirtzu, NGO Monitor, and the Friends of Israel Initiative.

Netanyahu made a big mistake in announcing the freeze ten months ago for Judea and Samaria only, and a bigger mistake extending it, de facto, to Jerusalem. It made no difference to the start of negotiations. In fact, it allowed Abbas to play around for ten months until its expiry was imminent. At a minimum, Netanyahu should have made the freeze conditional on the start of negotiations. But he didn't, and friends of Israel can't understand why. But even if he had made it conditional, it should have been limited to the same ten months within which period a deal would have to be reached.

The freeze becomes important only if no settlement is expected. From the PA perspective, a permanent freeze would put enormous pressure on Israel. Israel needs to provide for the natural growth within the settlements. Families are growing and thus  more bedrooms and classrooms are needed. If they are not provided, the communities will start to break up. Until now, Israel was accommodating the growth of these communities with the provision of roads and other services. Similarly, the settlement blocks grow by at least 20,000 inhabitants a year. Israel will have to provide housing for these people in Israel, and this will require the provision of new infrastructure and planning. Effectively, a permanent freeze will require Israel to focus its growth in Israel and will give the PA an enormous victory without any concessions on its part. There would be a great deal of political instability, uncertainty and dislocation. 

From Israel's point of view, building avoids these problems and puts enormous pressure on the PA. The longer the PA waits to cut a deal, the more Israel consolidates its hold on Judea and Samaria. In ten years, the present Jewish population living east of the green line would at least double to a total of 1.2 million. The current Arab population east of the Green Line, including in Israel, is 1.6 million.

The peace process enables the international community and the PA to make demands on Israel. Israel should abandon the peace process and regain its independence. If the international community had stayed out of it, the conflict might have long ago been solved. The peace process prolongs the conflict because it strengthens the PA's will to resist. Even more so, by creating the PA in the first place and giving voice to the refugees, the situation in Judea and Samaria greatly deteriorated. Prior to Oslo, the local Arabs in Judea and Samaria peacefully coexisted with Israel. Only recently did the situation in Judea and Samaria improve due to policies of the Israeli government and willingness of the PA to cooperate on security matters.

Israel has changed its negotiating priorities for the better. It used to be that Israel pursued diplomacy to reach a deal and then went to the IDF and told them to provide security. Now Netanyahu has reversed this order and is first demanding security. He is demanding the IDF remain on the Jordan, the new Palestine be demilitarized, and Palestine recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The PA is not about to agree to any of these three demands. Such rejection will end the process.

I don't want Israel to limit its demands to security -- i.e., if we got all our security demands met, would Israel then agree to the '67 borders with mutual swaps? Just as Abbas always demands that "Israel end the occupation of Palestinian lands," Israel should be rejecting the assumption that they are Palestinian lands and should be putting forth the claim that the lands were given to the Jews in San Remo and should be retained by Israel as a result. It used to be, with this in mind, that Israel called the lands "disputed." But not now. It is a huge mistake to not assert Israel's claim to these lands. At a minimum, it would take some of the bite out of the accusation that Israelis are occupiers.

The Partition Plan of '47 drew borders based on demographics. At a minimum, the same principle should be followed now and for the same reason. A settlement should not require Israel to uproot a massive number of Israelis. The borders should be drawn to minimize the dislocation.

With the end of the peace process, the PA may well return to violence, but they will have a lot to lose in terms of their prosperity and freedom of movement. On the other hand, with or without the peace process, Hamas will keep up the attacks. The same can be expected of Hezb'allah. Of course, Iran is behind both of them

The U.S. policy is to ignore Iran and pursue solutions in Iraq and Israel as though Iran was not calling the shots. But she is. Iran is the elephant in the room and must be neutered.

Ted Belman is a retired lawyer and editor of Israpundit. He recently made aliya from Toronto and now lives in Jerusalem.
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