President Obama will certainly have a lot to discuss when he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on July 6th. Hopefully, one of the topics will be the renewal of Israel’s current settlement freeze.
Last November, after a push from President Obama, the Israeli government adopted a ten-month moratorium on settlement construction and planning, which affected the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Settlement construction on these occupied lands seriously complicates the possibility for Israelis and Palestinians to advance peace talks. Most Israeli politicians, from every part of the political spectrum, have agreed that most of these settlements would have to be removed as a part of any final peace agreement. In that case, as indicated in past negotiations, the possibility of West Bank settlers being allowed to remain also depends on whether or not the settlement expansion stops.
Continuing construction on these sites undermines Israel’s assertion that it is serious about peace and disheartens many Palestinians and Israelis who see the two-state solution as a real hope. And when Israel’s dedication is questioned, people start believing that violence is the only way to get leaders to listen.
To accommodate all these settlers, the “security barrier” is continuously distorted, keeping either side from having a secure line of defense. The “security barrier” was put up between Palestinian and Israeli settlements to reduce violence and help keep settlers safe. Ironically, the contortions of this line end up leaving some Palestinians and Israelis stranded in less than friendly territory.
These settlements also strain the Israeli government’s budget and resources, especially since arriving at a solution would likely mean having to destroy many of these same buildings for which they had just finished financing the construction.
In an effort, then, to end this expansion, the current settlement freeze appears to be a great advancement — allowing Palestinians and Israelis a better chance at peace talks.
While this has been a huge and important step, unfortunately, not all construction has actually stopped. Meanwhile, many other projects seem to be sitting and waiting for the day when the moratorium ends. At that point, the construction will leap back into full force, regardless of where the government may be in peace talks.
The Israeli government has made some great strides in the right direction, even if they are not doing everything they can to abide by the moratorium. And if this is extended for another year — without additional exceptions or loopholes — there will likely be a complete freeze on construction in the settlements for the first time.
Americans for Peace Now has launched an action urging President Obama to push to extend the settlement freeze when he meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu next week. Add your voice, and tell President Obama that halting construction on settlements is a necessary condition for peace.
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