Israel settlement freeze ends September 26
While Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Washington this week to talk about peace gestures toward the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was planting a tree in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank -- an indication of permanence that few Palestinians would welcome.I think the freeze was a mistake. The Palestinians would have more incentive to conclude a peace agreement if they knew that every delay they made meant more settlers would have houses on the West bank. While many buy into the proposition that these communities are illegal, the basis for that opinion is certainly in dispute. Both sides of this dispute see the other as squatters. Right now the Palestinians have little incentive to anything but stall. They must be made to see the September 26 deadline as real. If they are not in direct negotiations at that time they should expect to see more building.
The contrast showed the confusion U.S. officials face in figuring out how willing Israel might be to cede territory as part of a two-state solution to the conflict.
President Obama's Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell, has been laboring for months to move Israelis and Palestinians into direct talks on the core issues that divide them, including the future of Jewish settlements built on land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
The peace effort faces a major challenge on Sept. 26, when a 10-month freeze of Israeli settlement construction is set to expire. The United States and Israel for years have quarreled over Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank that is widely considered illegal under international law. The United States, which says settlement construction undermines peace talks, pushed hard for the moratorium on building.