There was big news on illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank this weekend. Israel announced yet another new settlement, near Shiloh, in order to accommodate 40 families who are being evacuated from illegal Amona settlement a few miles to the south.
And: the Quartet is getting ready to issue a report later this month condemning Israeli settlement construction– and house demolition and land appropriation– as the chief obstruction to a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. Rather than restraining its European partners, the United States has taken the lead in crafting the report, according to the Associated Press, and that marks a “subtle shift” in Washington’s position.
Israel is furious, even though the report is symbolic. The move is seen by some D.C. types as evidence that the United States will actually try and make a move for a peace deal before President Obama leaves office: the November surprise scenario that was popular at J Street this year. Because as of January 20 next year, there will be zero pressure on Israel.
First, here’s the report from Haaretz on the latest settlement:
The Defense Ministry, together with the settlement movement Amana, is planning a new settlement near Shiloh in the northern West Bank. The new construction is intended for the 40 families now living in the outpost of Amona, which is set to be evacuated by the end of the year.
The new international report is aimed at just such policies: the “problematic trend” of legalizing smaller so-called outposts, according to the AP.
Here are the numbers, deep in the AP story, on Israeli settlers (almost all Jewish) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem: roughly the population of Milwaukee. And someone is going to move them out?
In 1972, there were just over 10,000 Israeli settlers, with 1,500 living in the West Bank and the rest in east Jerusalem. Two decades later, by the time of the Oslo peace accords, there were 231,200 Israelis living in the territories. That number rose to 365,000 by 2000, when the second Palestinian uprising began, and 474,000 by the time Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s prime minister again in 2008.
The settlements are now home to more than 570,000 Israelis, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now – 370,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in east Jerusalem. Settlements range from small wildcat outposts on West Bank hilltops to developed towns with shopping malls, schools and suburban homes.
“This is how it works in Israel,” Ilene Cohen writes:
First, reward the violent settlers for leaving their illegal outpost (so defined even by Israel) slated (by court order) for evacuation by establishing a brand-new “legal” (but, of course, illegal) settlement for them. It’s all up front. The message to settlers is clear: onward to the next outpost and get yourself a new settlement. And as for the latest US “message”—and the “tougher tone” (second article following)—what’s the point?
Don’t get me wrong, better the latest report than not. Better to have the pile-on grow against the illegal Israeli colonization of Palestine than not. But, really, the “tougher tone” is more than half a million settlers too late.
Here’s the news part of the Associated Press report, by Matt Lee and Bradley Klapper:
The United States will endorse a tougher tone with Israel in an upcoming international report that takes the Jewish state to task over settlements, demolitions and property seizures on land the Palestinians claim for a future state, diplomats told The Associated Press.
The U.S. and its fellow Mideast mediators also will chastise Palestinian leaders for failing to rein in anti-Israeli violence. But the diplomats involved in drafting the document said its primary focus will be a surge of construction in Jewish housing in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The U.S. approval of the harsh language marks a subtle shift. Washington has traditionally tempered statements by the so-called “Quartet” of mediators with careful diplomatic language, but the diplomats said the U.S. in this case will align itself closer to the positions of the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, who emphasize Israel’s role in the Mideast impasse.
The report’s release is sure to infuriate Israel, where officials are already bracing for expected criticism.
The AP says that the Quartet has been irrelevant for the last few years and while no action will follow from the report–
The diplomats said the report is intended to highlight obstacles to a two-state peace agreement – the stated goal of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders – and offer recommendations for restarting negotiations in a process that is stalled.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:
Meanwhile, Israel has been in contact with all members of the Quartet in an effort to soften the tone of the report, Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed senior official in Jerusalem. In addition, Israel has provided documents to the Quartet in order to soften criticism of Israel or increase criticism of the Palestinians.
The Israeli official told Haaretz that there is concern in Jerusalem that the United States will allow a statement in the report saying settlements are illegal. To date, the harshest position the U.S. has taken is that the settlements are illegitimate and an obstacle to peace. Israel is also trying to prevent any mention in the report of possible future action in the U.N. Security Council, the official said.
Haaretz has a report on Israeli lobbying effort. They are obviously most concerned about a possible French resolution in the UN Security Council against settlements, and the possibility that the United States will either abstain or endorse the resolution.
Israel Lobbies U.S. to Soften Tone of Quartet Report on Settlements
Israel is working to prevent the report, to be issued in the last week of May, from mentioning future possible steps by the UN Security Council on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Although it is still unclear what the practical implications of the report’s criticism will be, Jerusalem ascribes great importance to it. That is because this is the first time in many years that the international community will be formulating an updated position on the freeze in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and will be doing so almost without taking the parties themselves into consideration.
[A] senior official said that Israel wants to prevent any mention in the report of possible future action in the UN Security Council. There is concern in Jerusalem over the possibility that the report will be presented by the Quartet to the Security Council as a basis for discussion and adoption as an official resolution