Now that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has arrived back from his first meeting in Washington D.C. with US President, Barack Obama, the pundits are out on both sides, either filled with exuberance about the meeting as a new opening for real change and the possibility of long-term peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, or dread that it was the first step on the road to Israel’s ruin.
What are the substantive results of the meeting? From the US side, we won’t know until we see how Obama’s administration reacts to the actions, or more properly, inaction, of the Israeli government.
So far from the Israeli side, the situation looks anything but promising.
As a preemptive move against the argument that Israel has been doing nothing to make the situation more amicable for negotiation with the Palestinians, in the week before Netanyahu’s trip to the US, Israeli Defense Minister and head of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, has been pushing the issue of evacuating “illegal settlement outposts.” He argues that the outposts must be evacuated one way or the other, and that "if this is not done through negotiations, it will be done with swift and firm enforcement.”
Cynically pushing the issue of the outposts as a singular and dangerous threat to the rule of law in Israel, the defense minister declared that “law enforcement cannot be compromised. A sovereign, viable state must enforce the law and exercise its authority over its citizens."
Would that Barak had as much enthusiasm for the rule of international law as he professes to have about Israeli state law.
In order to show the world that they mean business, yesterday, 21 May, Israeli authorities dismantled one small West Bank settlement outpost, called Maoz Esther, where approximately four families were living. No more than six hours after the Israeli authorities left the site, settlers began rebuilding the outpost.
What must be kept in mind here is that this whole hullabaloo concerns only tens of unauthorized outposts, leaving aside the issue of the more than 460,000 settlers presently living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. In fact, Defense Minister Barak framed the issue of the removal of the outposts as a way to support the settlement movement in general, stating that the outposts were hurting Israel on the international level and undermining the settlement movement. And, if Barak’s past actions are any predictor of his future behavior, any deal for the evacuation of outposts will be tied to an expansion of existing settlements.
Moreover, use of the term “Illegal settlement outposts,” is a purposeful political and strategic sleight of hand, employed by the Israeli government as a way to legitimize the wider settlement project by differentiating between the settlements themselves, and the “illegitimate” construction of settlement outposts. By force of the illogical logic created by this use of this term, if the outposts are “illegal” this must mean that the other settlements are “legal.”
While Prime Minister Netanyahu, for his part, has repeatedly demanded that any potential Palestinian negotiation partner not only first recognize Israel as a country, but specifically as a Jewish state, he has so far refused to publically accept the notion of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Ron Dermer, a senior Advisor to the Prime Minister, went so far as to say, “This idea of two states for two peoples is a stupid and childish solution to a very complex problem.”
And, while President Obama, in his visit to Cairo next month, is expected to reveal his proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, including support for the Arab demand that Palestinians be permitted to establish their capital in East Jerusalem, Netanyahu has been doing what he can to quash any hope of this actually coming about. Only one day after the Prime Minister returned to Israel from his meeting in Washington D.C., he vowed, during a speech in Jerusalem (21 May), that “United Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Jerusalem has always been—and always will be—ours. It will never again be divided or cut in half. Jerusalem will remain only under Israel’s sovereignty.”
During the same Jerusalem Day celebration, Israeli President Shimon Peres, seconded Netanyahu, stating “It has and always will be Israel’s capital. We never had another and it has never been the capital of any other people. “
One thing is certain, without significant international pressure to hold Israel accountable for its actions, the present Israeli government will never make the moves necessary to end the occupation and for a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis