The Truth About Settlements

Daniel Kurtzer, who served as US Ambassador to Israel during George W. Bush’s first term, corrects the record on Israel’s settlements. The key factual takeaway is that what Obama is doing is actually seeking to achieve what’s always been American policy on this issue, not trying to get the Israelis to do anything they haven’t agreed to previously. He then goes on to poke holes in the “natural growth” concept:

The pattern of population growth in the territories actually undercuts the natural-growth argument. Since 1993, when Israel signed the Oslo Accords, Israel’s West Bank settler population has grown from 116,300 to 289,600. The numbers in East Jerusalem increased from 152,800 to more than 186,000. This goes far beyond the natural increase of families already living in the settlements. Inserting the provision of “natural growth” in official documents started with the 2001 Mitchell Report and the 2003 “road map,” reflecting recognition that the concept was being abused as a justification for expanding settlements. The Obama administration is pursuing policies that every administration since 1967 has articulated — that settlements jeopardize the possibility of achieving peace and thus settlement activity should stop. This does not diminish the Palestinians’ responsibilities, especially their commitment to stop violence and terrorism and uproot terrorist infrastructure. President Obama emphasized this in his Cairo speech. But Palestinian failures in no way justify Israeli failure to implement their road map commitments with respect to settlements and outposts. It is time for Israel to freeze all settlement activity and dismantle the unauthorized outposts.

The other thing I’ve heard from people is that it’s somehow logistically impossible to totally freeze settlement growth. Even if this were true, it would be a red herring — if the difference between the Obama administration and Netanyahu were really a technical logistical issue, you could work it out. What we’re seeing is a broad disagreement about policy. Obama wants peace and a two-state solution, Netanyahu has an approach that would preclude such a solution.

Meanwhile, it’s not true. Americans for Peace Now has a very useful document called “How to Freeze Settlements: A Layman’s Guide” that I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in exploring this issue in detail.