Following the usual protocol of the Israeli government, Ehud Olmert responded to US criticism of Israeli settlements by deflecting blame to the Palestinians while portraying Israeli “natural growth” as a helpless and unavoidable condition of the existing settlements. Perhaps spoiled by the unconditional support from the previous Bush administration, Olmert remains in a world in which Israeli actions are unpunishable as Palestinians are starved, suffocated and oppressed to the point of submission.
Olmert believes the settlement issue is a “non-priority issue” and that the limited time available should be better spent in negotiations. His premise is that Israel will not hand over their settlements to Palestinians as part of a “two-state” solution. However, the settlements serve as a tangible reminder of Israeli oppression, limiting their development could be the symbolic olive branch the U.S. administration wants to push negotiations forward.
This symbolism has been repeatedly avoided by Israel and continues to be a major contributor to failing negotiations. Israel assumes making any concession is an admission of fault and will make them appear weak to the Arab community. The peace process should not produce winners and losers but rather a consensus in which both societies can prospect and develop as neighbors.
Further emphasizing his agenda, Olmert admits his main concern is “the potential to greatly shake U.S.-Israeli relations.” Excluding the United States, Israel often finds itself without allies worldwide, a very scary prospect for a country with such an inflexible agenda. Israel will not break from its hard-line position on Palestine until the US begins applying the necessary political pressure to break the coalition of right-wing conservatives across Israel. Because of the politics and actions of their inhabitants, as well as the nature of their creation, settlements could prove to be that polarizing issue which finally discourages unwavering US support of Israel.
The Israeli government fears the repercussion of settlement concessions in the overall peace process with the Palestinians. Thus Olmert is completely wrong in arguing a settlement freeze “will not promote Palestinian efforts to enhance security measures … better movement and access to the Palestinians; nor an improved economy in the West Bank. Nor will it weaken the Hamas government in Gaza. It will not bring greater security to Israel, help improve Israel’s relations with the Arab world, strengthen a coalition of moderate Arab states or shift the strategic balance in the Middle East.”
Limiting the growth of settlements and better controlling the Israeli population strengthens Palestine security by reducing provocation to conflict. A settlement freeze cannot directly improve Palestinian mobility and economy or weaken Hamas only because that policy is not directed at those issues. Indirectly, the US would receive more credibility as a facilitator of peace, having achieved a coveted objective.
Only a fool could fail to see how increased U.S. credibility could enhance its ability to intermediate improved Israeli relations with Arab communities and thus help to facilitate a moderation among Muslims worldwide. However, it should come as no surprise Olmert refuses to accept the simple logic of this argument. Just as he cannot understand why Palestinians refused his offer, Olmert chooses to continue the Israeli government’s strategy of deflecting political issues. Targeting Iran and its perceived nuclear ambitions is a prime example. I understand that Ahmadinejad’s hostile and insulting language against Israel has given the Israeli people reason to worry about their security. While this threat hits close to home given certain Palestinian connections to the Iranian government, it seems to me Israel holds the bargaining chips necessary to neutralize Iran’s attractiveness to those Palestinians. The deep suspicion in which Iran is held by Arabs in the Middle East would trump Iranian hate rhetoric if serious negotiations were held and Israel offered a real solution to the conflict.
Palestinians have no reason to prefer an alliance with Iran over a legitimate opportunity for self-determination in their own land. Rather than quelling the conflict by addressing the reasons behind it, Israel would rather continue to promote a hard-line, zero tolerance policy towards its enemies. This policy is completely unsustainable in the long run and will eventually collapse one way or another. Israel cannot survive without the continued support of its most powerful friend. The Israeli government eventually must compromise.
Minaret of Freedom Institute