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The Yellow Brick Road

James Napier | Monday, March 29, 2010

The U.S. response to Israel’s recent announcement of 1,600 new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem has been cool. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden have criticized these plans as well as the timing of the announcement. It seems to be no coincidence that the announcement came just after Palestinians agreed to indirect negotiations with Israel. Furthermore, Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it very clear he is no fan of a two-state solution. It is not enough to criticize Israel for this very clear land grab; Israel needs American support, surely America can exert more pressure to bring Israel to the negotiating table.
Before discussing recent events any further, it may help to briefly contextualize the situation. East Jerusalem is not recognized as Israeli territory. In fact, almost every country but Israel recognizes it as Palestinian land. Since the Israeli announcement, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has refused to negotiate until Israel freezes settlement building, which includes building in east Jerusalem. A settlement is a Jewish community which has been established by the Israeli government — or at least with its tacit approval — on land recognized as belonging to the Palestinians. Initially, Netanyahu refused to freeze any settlement building but finally agreed in November to a moratorium, exempting Jerusalem, after months of pressure from the White House.
Exerting pressure does not mean Israel should be viewed as anything other than an ally; after all, even good friends have disagreements from time to time. Rather, one should ask why America is hesitant to lean on Israel even when Israel explicitly acts against U.S. interests. America literally gives $3 billion every year to Israel and has consistently defended Israel against a hostile United Nations and international community. Some have suggested withholding funding would irreparably threaten U.S.-Israeli relations, however history shows this concern to be unjustified. Threatening to withhold aid has worked in the past to bring Israel into line and there is no reason to suspect it will not work in the current debacle. The most famous example is when the United States convinced Israel to enter the Oslo Accords by withholding aid.
While the Oslo Accords were not the heralding of a better period in Palestinian-Israeli relations, negotiation still remains in the best interests of Israel, America and the PA. Freezing settlements in east Jerusalem and entering negotiations will signal to Israel’s neighbors that she is willing to work cooperatively for a sustainable and peaceful future. Furthermore, since Israel is seen by many in the Arab world as America’s client state, negotiations, even if only marginally successful, may increase America’s standing in the Arab world. Lastly, Palestinians would also benefit from negotiations as they would help reduce the West’s image of the Palestinians as terrorists.
America and Israel have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship. The two countries have worked together on political issues and even shared technologies and carried out research together. However, Palestinians cannot be blamed for the most recent failure in peace negotiations. They quite reasonably understand the recent settlement announcement as a land grab to prevent east Jerusalem from ever being incorporated into a future Palestinian state. If a peaceful two-state solution is ever to be realized then both sides must compromise.
One can understand why Israel wants to unite all of Jerusalem under its control but the simple fact is that settlements are just as bad for Israel as they are for Palestinians. For many Palestinians, settlements are the prime symbol of Israeli dominance and lust for control. In essence they stand for all the reasons Palestinians believe they cannot trust the Israeli government. Like it or not, Palestinians will be Israel’s neighbors for a long time to come and Israel should make attempts to increase good will amongst its neighbors. Of course, Israel has a right to defend itself but it seems settlements make Israel less secure by increasing despair and feelings of disenfranchisement amongst the Palestinian people.
Currently, Israel is headed by a hard right-wing government which makes compromise very difficult. This is where the United States comes into play. No one wants to lose out on free money. Thus, America should make its grants (still free money) contingent on freezing settlements and entering into negotiations with the PA. To stop at merely calling the building project in east Jerusalem an “insult” is the true insult both to regional stability and the Palestinian people.

James Napier is a senior history major. He can be contacted at jnapier@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.