Are Settlements the Major Obstacle to Peace? (GateStone Institute) by Khaled Abu Toameh 04/12/12)
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Mahmoud Abbas is searching for an honorable way to climb down the
tree. He is hoping that the US Administration or the Quartet will
provide him with the needed ladder. The major obstacle to peace is
the increasing radicalization of the Arab and Islamic masses and the
continuing demonization of Jews. As far as many Arabs and Muslims are
concerned, Israel is one big settlement that needs to be removed.
The Palestinian Authority is demanding that the UN Security Council
condemn Israel for building in the settlements and east Jerusalem
In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Palestinian
Authority said that Israeli settlements were "illegal"
and "destructive" to the peace process.
The letter was sent to Ban Ki-moon ahead of a meeting of
representatives of the Quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - in New
York to discuss ways of reviving the stalled peace process.
The Palestinian Authority, in its letter, also urged the Quartet to
exert pressure on Israel to stop activities in the settlements or
face being held fully responsible for "derailing" the peace process.
For the past two decades, the Palestinian Authority had been
negotiating with Israel while construction in the settlements was
The construction did not seem to bother Yasser Arafat, who continued
to hold peace talks with Israel even while the bulldozers were
working in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Arafat never demanded a full cessation of settlement activities as a
pre-condition for pursuing the peace talks with Israel.
Abbas and his negotiators sat at the negotiating table with Israel
even after they had threatened that the peace process would end if
Israel built the new Har Homa neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
True, the Palestinian Authority under Arafat did sometimes voice
opposition to Israel´s policy of settlement construction. But that
did not prompt them to boycott the peace talks.
Arafat´s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, also did not seem to have a
problem with the settlements during the first few years of his term
Abbas continued to talk to representatives of the Israeli government
of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert while settlements were being expanded
and new housing units were being built in east Jerusalem.
Abbas cannot say that he was unaware of the construction, especially
in light of the fact that from his office and home in Ramallah he
could see the new houses in nearby settlements.
The issue of the settlements became a "major obstacle to peace" only
when US President Barack Obama one day demanded that Israel freeze
all settlement activities. Obama´s demand embarrassed the Palestinian
Authority, whose leaders rushed to endorse the call.
The Palestinian Authority leadership even took a step further by
announcing that it would not return to the negotiating table unless
Israel halted all settlement activities.
But then one morning President Obama abandoned the demand, leaving
Abbas alone on a high tree. Now Abbas is searching for an honorable
way to climb down the tree. He is hoping that the US Administration
or the Quartet will provide him with the needed ladder.
But the real question that needs to be raised these days is whether
settlements are the major obstacle to peace?
Abbas knows that the future of the settlements will be determined
only through direct negotiations with Israel. He also knows that some
of the settlements will stay in their place even after the signing of
a final and comprehensive peace treaty between Israel and the
In 2005, Israel destroyed more than 20 settlements and evicted 8,000
Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. The move did not leave an
impression on the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, especially
those affiliated with Hamas and radical groups in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas and its allies misinterpreted the disengagement from the Gaza
Strip as a sign of weakness, not a goodwill gesture on the part of
Even if Israel tomorrow dismantled 90% of the settlements in the West
Bank, who said that the Palestinians will take to the streets to sing
the Israeli national anthem?
Settlements may be a problem, but they are certainly not the major
obstacle to the peace process.
There are, meanwhile, many other major obstacles to peace. These
include the rise of Islamists to power in the Arab world, the ongoing
power struggle between Fatah and Hamas and the reality that the Gaza
Strip has been turned into a center for global jihad and a front for
Iran´s extremist rulers.
The major obstacle to peace is the increasing radicalization of the
Arab and Islamic masses and the continuing demonization of Jews. As
far as many Arabs and Muslims are concerned, Israel is one big
settlement that needs to be removed.
Another major obstacle to peace can be found in the irony that Abbas
does not seem to have a mandate from his people to make any
concessions to Israel. A president who cannot even visit his private
residence in the Gaza Strip will never be able to deliver anything on
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