Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is one of Congress’ biggest Israel hawks, opposing “any attempt to pressure Israel” and worrying that President Obama doesn’t have “the right stuff to bomb Iran.” But in a recent interview with the Jewish Ledger, Lieberman offered a harmful understanding about the situation in the Middle East, rejecting the fact that the expansion of Israeli settlements is impairing the peace process:
Q: There’s been a great deal of pressure on Israel to stop building in the “settlements.” Some in the Administration and in Congress believe it is a major impediment to peace. Do you agree?
A: No, I really don’t think that the “community building,” as it is now called, is the obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Respectfully, I think the President made a mistake when, earlier in the year, as an attempt to try to engage the Arab world, he specifically called on Israel to freeze the settlements, because that had not been a specific request of the Palestinians themselves, and it led others in the Middle East to think that they could continue to pressure us. … We can’t – and in my opinion, we shouldn’t – push both peoples to do something that they don’t want to do.
The Israeli government may call it “community building,” but the U.S. government and the international community refer to it as “settlement expansion.” Settlements are one of the chief Palestinian grievances, so regardless of how Lieberman feels about them, claiming that settlements are not a major “obstacle” to peace is naive or willfully ignorant. By opposing a settlement freeze, Lieberman is disagreeing not only with Obama, but with every U.S. administration since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.
The settlements stoke extremism and violence on both sides of the conflict, making reconciliation more difficult. As the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss notes, “by entrenching Israel within the Palestinian territories, the settlements also make a two-state solution — which both Presidents Bush and Obama have recognized as a central U.S. national security interest — far more difficult to achieve.”
Under the 2003 road map, Israel is obligated to freeze settlements, including “natural growth.” After resisting calls from the Obama administration to honor its commitments, the Israeli government announced a partial freeze late last year. But thanks to plenty of loopholes in the pronouncement, 10,000 new homes could be built this year.