New settlement construction dims prospects for two-state solution

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Israel's latest blow to the peace process occurred on November 30. Just one day after the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to grant the Palestinians non-member observer state status at the UN, Netanyahu’s government authorized 3,000 new settler homes to be built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in blatant retaliation for the UN’s recognition of a Palestinian state. As Karl Vick reported in the Dec. 17 issue of Time magazine, Netanyahu “moved to virtually chop the West Bank in half, pushing forward plans to build housing for Israeli Jews on the last stretch of usable Palestinian land east of Jerusalem.” 

For months, the Obama Administration put enormous diplomatic pressure on Abbas to stop him from seeking a historic vote by the UN General Assembly on Palestine. That effort would have been better spent on Israel's expansionist settlement policies which are the major obstacle to the peace process. Half a million Jewish settlers and an occupying Israeli army permanently ruling over 2.7 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is not the answer for a peaceful, just and lasting solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Even the United States, one of only nine countries in the UN General Assembly who voted against accepting Palestine as a non-member observer state, sharply criticized Israel’s latest plans to build settlements. “These actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. 

The announcement of Israel's latest plans for new settlement construction underscores the fact that the Netanyahu government is not willing to accept a two-state solution. Netanyahu has no interest in creating a viable Palestinian state. In fact, his election to Israeli leadership in 2009, marked the end of what had been productive talks between Abbas and previous Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

On Christmas Day, Netanyahu officially launched his re-election campaign in Israel announcing that continued construction of East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements — despite a tidal wave of international condemnation — will be front and center of the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu party's political platform. “With God’s help we will continue to live and build in Jerusalem, which shall remain united under Israeli sovereignty,” Netanyahu said on Dec. 25. “In recent years, we did much to strengthen settlements [in the West Bank], and we will continue to act to strengthen the settlements.”

A day earlier, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved plans for 1,242 housing units in the Gilo neighborhood across the "Green Line" in southern Jerusalem. The approval came a week after the committee blessed the construction of 2,612 units in Givat Hamatos and 1,500 units in Ramat Shlomo, also Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line annexed by Israel but claimed by Palestinians as part of their state. 

While Netanyahu did agree to a 10-month settlement "freeze" in 2010, it was so full of loopholes that Israel actually built more new West Bank housing that year than it had in 2008. With Israeli encroachment on their territory continuing to expand, who can blame the Palestinians for taking their destiny into their own hands and making their case before the 193-member UN General Assembly? 

Settlements, which are illegal under Article 49 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, are not only a threat to the territorial integrity of a future Palestinian state but also threaten the dream of a democratic Jewish state which is incompatible with permanent Israeli occupation. As former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni warned: “the decision to build thousands of housing units as punishment to the Palestinians only punishes Israel…[and] only isolates Israel further.”

Rather than trying to penalize the Palestinian Authority for securing UN membership and international legitimacy, which some members of Congress have suggested, the Obama administration should be demanding that Israel halt all settlement construction on territory it seized in the 1967 war. During the past 45 years of brutal Israeli occupation, Israel has denied Palestinians their land rights, water rights, human rights, and their right to self-determination. Abbas has charged that Israel’s “perpetuation of war crimes stems from its conviction that it is above the law.”

It’s time to hold Israel accountable for its policies and lawless actions. If Washington won’t, then perhaps others will. With its new non-member observer state status at the UN, Palestine is now in a position to take its grievances to the International Criminal Court. If the ICC were to declare Israeli settlements illegal, it could lead to other Palestinian efforts to secure long overdue justice under international law. Next stop is The Hague.    

Slabodkin is a former opposition researcher for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).