– Steven J. Rosen, JCPA
Mahmoud Abbas participated in 18 years of direct negotiations with seven Israeli governments, all without the settlements freeze that he now insists is an absolute precondition to begin even low-level talks.
President Obama’s failure to distinguish construction in east Jerusalem from settlement activity in the West Bank put him at odds with the Israeli consensus. No major party in Israel, and no significant part of the Jewish public, is willing to count the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem as “settlements” to be “frozen.”
The Sharon government reached an understanding with the Bush administration to ban outward geographic expansion of established settlements, while reserving the right to continue expansion inside the “construction line” of existing houses. Almost all the construction that the Netanyahu administration has allowed is either in Jerusalem or in the settlement blocs, the two categories that Israel had thought were protected by understandings with the Americans.
Israelis were bitterly disappointed by the Obama administration’s refusal to acknowledge agreements with a prior U.S. government that the Israelis considered vital and binding. Sharon aide Dov Weissglas said, “If decision-makers in Israel…discover, heaven forbid, that an American pledge is only valid as long as the president in question is in office, nobody will want such pledges.”
Stalled peace negotiations in the Obama years cannot be blamed on Netanyahu’s policies of accelerating settlement construction. He has in fact slowed it down. What has undermined peace negotiations, rather, is Obama’s policy on the settlements – and the unrealistic expectations that policy has nourished.
Steven J. Rosen is Director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum and served for 23 years with AIPAC.