Israeli Ambassador To U.S. Falsely Claims ‘The Palestinians Didn’t Come To The Table’ During Settlement Freeze

Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador To The U.S.

Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas in a New York Times op-ed back in May said part of the reason the Palestinians are seeking full U.N. membership is that they’ve lost faith in the negotiations toward a two-state solution. “Negotiations remain our first option, but due to their failure we are now compelled to turn to the international community to assist us,” he wrote. A main obstacle to negotiations is the continuation of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. In an interview with Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren this weekend on CNN, host Candy Crowley wondered why the Israelis don’t “just stop the settlements and come to the table.” Oren responded:

OREN: Well, we’ve stopped the settlements. We’ve stopped the settlements for ten months and the Palestinians didn’t come to the table. We’re willing to extend that for another three months. And the Obama administration determined that they still weren’t going to come to the table, the Palestinians.

Watch it:

Oren is right. The Israelis did initiate a temporary 10-month settlement freeze which expired nearly one year ago. However, Oren is wrong to say “the Palestinians didn’t come to the table.” Months after the settlement freeze took effect, the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to start direct talks, which began in early September, 2010 in Washington and continued until the Palestinians ended the negotiations after the Israel’s settlement freeze expired weeks later.

In order to keep the direct negotiations alive, President Obama proposed a two-month freeze extension in return for U.S. concessions, including military aid and support for an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley after the Palestinians establish their state. The Palestinians wanted a renewed settlement moratorium to include building in East Jerusalem, which was excluded from the original moratorium. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in return for the extended settlement freeze, an offer the Palestinians declined.

Why would the Palestinians decline? “Palestinian leaders worry about the ways in which this could prejudice some key final-status issues, notably refugees,” wrote American Task Force on Palestine senior research fellow Hussien Ibish. “Moreover,” Ibish adds, “Palestinians are concerned that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state might be seen as endorsing discrimination against the Palestinian minority in Israel, which is approximately 20 percent of the population.”

Israeli settlements in the West Bank have expanded 660 percent since the settlement freeze expired and since then, there has been “nearly 2 times more construction in the settlements than in Israel.”