Settlement Activities Destroy Opportunities for Peace

  • 28 August 2008

The rapid pace in the building of colonies in the occupied Palestinian territories which Israel insists on pursuing despite Palestinian, Arab, and international protests is a very serious problem and obstacle to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process for many reasons. First, settlements are an Israeli policy of imposing a status quo and changing the demographic, geographic, and natural condition of Palestinian lands so they cannot form a contiguous human and geographic whole, thus obviating the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. Second, settlement activity concentrates specifically on Jerusalem in order to increase its Jewish character so that the city can more readily become the coveted eternal capital of Israel. This, while East Jerusalem is an essential element of the Arab, Palestinian, and Islamic conception of peace since it is the expected capital of the Palestinian state as the Arab Initiative makes clear. Third, most Jewish settlers are extremists; a fact that adds tension, conflict, and violence to the Palestinian-Israeli relationship on the ground and weakens opportunities for peace.

And despite the Israeli commitment at the Annapolis Conference in the United States to freeze settlement activities, Israel's Peace Now movement has lately published a report showing that settlements have almost doubled in 2007 and that there has been a new focus on Jerusalem. Public bids in East Jerusalem have increased from 46 in the first 11 months of 2007 to 1761 since the end of the Annapolis Conference.

International criticisms of settlement activities are levied from time to time, but Israel shows no interest in them and continues to dissect Palestinian lands, implant settlement blocks, and make East Jerusalem Jewish. What is required is to make verbal criticisms real actions so that Israel does not continue to destroy the peace process and any opportunity to help it succeed.

The related danger is that while Israel continues to expand settlements and ignore Arab and international criticisms, the Palestinians are divided among themselves. Hamas' face-off with Fatah and the West Bank's confrontation with Gaza give Israel ample time to complete its "Judaization" of Palestinian land and the justification to rescind its commitment to stop settlement activities or freeze them during negotiations. Furthermore, they bleed Palestinian and Arab efforts in struggles that are distractions from the original struggle and pressing issues.