Daniel Byman of Georgetown University points out in Laura’s posting mentioned below, “Over the past 15 years, settlements have gone from being seen in Washington as an irritant, to the dominant issue.” I think this is very well put. The Obama administration is absolutely right to be focusing with crystalline intensity on the question of the settlements. The settlements are a dagger aimed at the heart of peace based on two states, the only plausible option for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They make the border much more difficult to draw, continuously expand the belligerent constituency in Israel that opposes peace, undermines Palestinian and Arab confidence in Israeli intentions, and for all these reasons and more undermine both the viability and the credibility of peace negotiations. It’s clear that President Obama, Secretary Clinton and others in the administration and in Congress have come to understand this. It is not, of course, clear yet whether or not they will be able to convince Israel to engage in a meaningful halt to settlement activity, but strong American engagement on the issue is probably the only way to prevent the Israeli government from digging the hole ever deeper.
For many months now my colleagues and I at the American Task Force on Palestine have been focused intently on the question of settlements and the need for a freeze. Over the past year or so, we decided, to put it politely, not to so much as visit the powder room without emphasizing the need for a settlement freeze. At the height of the Gaza war on January 8, 2009, ATFP President Ziad Asali spoke at a major conference organized by the United States Institute of Peace conference at the Washington Convention Center, and even at that time of violence and chaos pushed the question of a settlement freeze to the forefront. He said, “This issue of a settlement freeze should be on the top of the new Administration’s agenda,” and indeed it now is – much to the discomfort of the settlement, greater-Israel, pro-occupation and anti-peace constituency.
Numerous well-informed and serious minded people questioned the wisdom of foregrounding the issue of settlements at such a time. In retrospect, I trust that the logic of our refusal to be deterred from continuously returning to this central theme even during times of active conflict has now become apparent to all.