On Settlements, Israel has Runs Circles Around One US President After Another

On Settlements, Israel has Runs Circles Around One US President After Another
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Over the weekend, the Israeli Prime Minister's office announced plans to build 1,400 new housing units across the Green Line in response to a wave of recent terrorist attacks.

We've all seen such statements countless times before. Over the past 49 years, Israeli governments have made innumerable decisions to build new West Bank settlements and expand existing ones. Almost each announcement has been greeted with US criticism -- which has done nothing to slow the inexorable expansion of the Israeli presence in the occupied territory.

This time, State Department spokesman John Kirby said: "If true, this report would be the latest step in what seems to be a systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution."

The United States has been saying such things for 40 years or more. For instance, President Jimmy Carter in April 1980 stated unequivocally that he believed the settlements were illegal under international law. At that time,
living in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem. The following year, Israel founded the following settlements: Ateret, Barkan, Beit Arye, Einav, Hinnanit, Karmel, Ma'ale Amos, Ma'ale Mikhmas, Ma'on, Mattityahu, Modi'in Ilit, Ma'ale, Nili, Pesagot, Shaked, Telem and Yakir. President Ronald Reagan, in September 1982, stated: "Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be free and fairly negotiated." That year, Israel established the settlements of Alei Zahav, Almon, Eshkalot, Kiryat Netafim, Negahot, Neve Daniel, Nokdim, No'omi and Pene Hever. President George H.W. Bush said in 1990: "The foreign policy of the United States says we do not believe there should be new settlements in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem. And I will conduct that policy as if it's firm, which it is." By then, there were already 76,000 Jews living in West Bank settlements. President Bill Clinton also spoke out against settlements. Before leaving office in January 2001, he said: "The Israeli people also must understand that . . . the settlement enterprise and building bypass roads in the heart of what they already know will one day be part of a Palestinian state is inconsistent with the Oslo commitment that both sides negotiate a compromise." As he spoke, the settler population was slightly over 200,000. President George W. Bush spoke out repeatedly against settlements. In 2002, he said: "Israeli settlement activity in occupied territories must stop, and the occupation must end through withdrawal to secure and recognized boundaries." When he left office in 2009, the settler population was almost 300,000. President Barak Obama has been outspoken against the settlements. In 2009, he said: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." By early 2015, the Jewish population living in West Bank settlements had reached around 373,000. By the time Obama leaves office next January, it will probably exceed 400,000. If the contest between the United States, heading the international community, and the settler movement backed by the Israeli government were a football game, the score by now would be around 84-0 to the settlers. The inescapable fact is that successive Israeli governments have run rings around successive US administrations on this issue. They settle and we issue statements - which they ignore. Every day, in rain and sun and snow and fog, they build, build, build. Isn't it time for the United States to do more than just issue another statement? Or should Israel be allowed to flout the will of the United States and the entire international community with total impunity - as it has done for the past 49 years? The settlements undermine the prospects of a two-state peace deal with the Palestinians and help entrench an occupation that has now entered its 50th year. They erode any sense among Palestinians that Israel has any intention of ever leaving the West Bank. What could the United States do? For a start, it could return to publicly referring to West Bank settlements as "illegal," which remains the official, if not recently articulated, US position. It could state that the next time a balanced resolution, which includes condemnation of the settlements, is brought to the UN Security Council, the US will consider, based on the overall text, not exercising its veto. It could make it clear that official Israeli action extending the boundaries of an authorized settlement to encompass a previously unauthorized outpost will be regarded by the United States as the establishment of a new settlement in violation of Israel's obligations under existing international agreements. It could start enforcing existing American customs regulations (in effect since 1995) which require that country-of-origin product labels accurately reflect where products are made when they come from the territory over the Green Line. Finally, given that there are a limited number of organizations currently receiving US tax deductions for contributions toward activities that help fuel settlement expansion, it could have the IRS examine and report back to the President on whether organizations operating over the Green Line do in fact meet the existing legal standard that such charitable activities not be "illegal [or] contrary to a clearly defined and established public policy." Or, it could issue another statement and see if that works.

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