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2
Aug
2016

The Curious State Department Announcement on Israeli Settlements


On reading the July 27, 2016 statement issued by the U.S. State Department on “Recent Israeli Settlement Announcements,”1 an average reader having landed from space, would only conclude that Israel’s settlement activity is the source of all evil in the world, and the United States is waging a massive war of Armageddon against this evil. No international terror, no ISIS, no Iranian nuclear threat, no Syria, no Hizbullah, no Hamas, no hunger, no global warming.

Only Israel’s settlements!

A Jerusalem neighborhood, branded as a “settlement”

A Jerusalem neighborhood, branded as a “settlement” (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Even without coming from space, the same average reader could only conclude that the State Department has really nothing much to do, and that someone there – whether the Secretary himself, or his senior staffers, or the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv – appears to be utterly and disproportionally fixated with Israel’s settlements, to the exclusion of any other issue that could be bothering the world’s largest and only super-power.

While one might anticipate such an outpouring of hostility from the Iranian foreign ministry or even from the EU Foreign Affairs Department, which has no love for Israel, but coming from the Israel’s staunchest ally, one may only ask what has gone wrong within the State Department?

Whether the instruction to issue such a willful, slanted and malicious statement indeed emanated from the Secretary of State himself, or from some over-enthused middle-ranking official, or whether it came from the U.S. Embassy staff in Tel Aviv – one may only ponder.

But the terminology used and the biting and incisive verve of the statement raise some serious questions as to the basic knowledge, seriousness, professionalism and responsibility of the writer and of whoever approved the issuance of the statement.

The State Department’s position regarding settlements has evolved over the years.  While previous administrations described them as an “obstacle to peace,” the Obama and Kerry administration have degraded them to being “illegitimate.”  The focus by the State Department on areas within Israel’s capital city Jerusalem as “settlements” is a historic distortion.

But to describe settlements – both in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samarian and parts of Jerusalem as “corrosive to the cause of peace,” as “systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution,” as “entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict,” and as “provocative and counterproductive” – is nothing more than a sad, disproportionate, political exaggeration, out of all proportion to settlements’ actual size or significance.

This is not to mention, of course, that this fixation seems to be way outside the nature of the relationship between the United States and Israel.

This massive frontal attack, as if nothing but settlements is preventing peace in the Middle East and is the harbinger of conflict, belies reality, misrepresents the situation, and misleads whoever is intended to be the target of this curious statement.

One might have imagined that the U.S. Administration is, or should be fully aware of the fact that issues of settlements and Jerusalem are central, agreed-upon issues on permanent status negotiating table, pursuant to the Oslo Accords. These Accords were even witnessed, counter-signed and guaranteed by U.S. President Bill Clinton, together with the leaders of Russia, the EU, Jordan, Egypt and Norway, and endorsed by the UN.

As such Israel is fully committed to negotiating them with the Palestinian leadership, if and when that leadership manages to put its act together and turn up to negotiate.

Settlements Are Not “Illegal” or Violate Oslo Accords

The State Department should also be aware of the fact that nothing in the Oslo Accords prevents planning, zoning and construction activity by either side in the West Bank areas under their respective control.

Furthermore, in voicing its one-sided allegations, the State Department seems to be willfully and systematically ignoring the well-established and documented legal, historic, indigenous, and political rights of the Jewish People regarding the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria, as stressed consistently over many years by Israel.

The State Department should be aware of the fact that its repeated questioning of the legality of Israel’s settlement activity and Israel’s claims regarding Jerusalem, in fact, prejudge these central negotiating issues and play into the Palestinian and European denials of Israel’s rights. As such, the State Department statements are the very antithesis of any peace negotiation process and run counter to the professed support by the U.S. of a negotiated, peaceful solution.

In repeatedly and obstinately threatening Israel with a “one-state reality,” the State Department is itself giving credence to a concept that has no basis whatsoever, is totally unrealistic, and runs counter to all the valid negotiated agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians.

But above all, in fixating on settlements, the State Department is deliberately turning a blind eye to the mortal danger of Islamic terror and hatred of Jews that permeate Palestinian society. In so doing, the Department is, in fact, giving a green light of encouragement to the Palestinian leadership, media and administrative bodies that openly incite, encourage and support terror, violence, and boycotts against Israel.

By the same token, the State Department is giving sanction to the European Union and its constituent member states, as well as to the UN and its specialized agencies to exacerbate their hostile policies against Israel. By their logic, if the U.S. State Department takes such a slanted and hostile position, they can now exacerbate their own hostility towards Israel.

Something appears to be very, very wrong within the State Department.

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Note

About Amb. Alan Baker

Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.

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