Via Faiz Shakir, it seems that Joe Lieberman appeared on Bloomberg and joined efforts by congressional hawks to bail Bibi Netanyahu out of his clash with the United States government by putting pressure on Barack Obama to back off his opposition to settlement expansion:
I thought the focus on the President’s direct call in that speech in Cairo for the Israelis to freeze all settlement activity — including the ‘natural growth‘ of settlements that everybody agrees are no longer settlements — …that was risky in the sense that it may lead listeners to believe that the main reason there is not an Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is the Israeli settlement policy.
I don’t think I would call the settlement freeze the “focus” of Obama’s Cairo speech, but he did focus on the need for both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict to live up to their commitments. Israel has previously promised to halt settlement activity, and while halting settlement activity is hardly the only barrier to peace, I think it’s clear enough that a cessation of Israeli land grabs is a necessary condition for peace.
Lieberman’s reference to “settlements that everybody agrees are no longer settlements” appears to refer to West Bank settlements built near the Green Line that more-or-less have the character of suburbs of Jerusalem. Israel hopes to annex most or all of these settlements in a final peace agreement. And perhaps some of them will be annexed. But the unilaterally decide that some settlements can and should be expanded because they’re “no longer settlements” is just a naked effort to prejudge the issue and circumvent the diplomatic process.
Meanwhile, if you look at a map you can see that while the built-up footprint of some of these “suburban” settlements is quite small, the municipal boundaries of the settlements are extremely expansion. Allowing for the “natural growth” of the settlements would entail cutting off the Arab portion of Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, displacing Bedouin from surrounding desert areas, and in effect making any kind of peace involving shared access to Jerusalem impossible. In other words, though “natural growth” of some existing blocs may sound like a small thing in the scheme of things, it would in fact shortly doom any hopes of reaching a realistic negotiated settlement.