Michael Koplow, the Policy Director at the Israel Policy Forum, this week added his voice to those suggesting that the US should drop its 48-year-old policy of opposing all Israeli settlement construction, and replace it with one that in effect green lights some such construction - or in Koplow's words, a policy that "distinguishes between kosher and non-kosher settlement growth." Koplow joins Brookings' Natan Sachs and others, all of whom follow in the footsteps of Dennis Ross in supporting such shift and predicting that it would help pave the way to peace. And Koplow - like his predecessors - uses words like "realistic" and "pragmatic" to describe his approach, suggesting that those who disagree are anything but.
To bolster his case, Koplow links to an article I published here on the Huffington Post earlier this month. Koplow suggests that I and those who agree with me oppose such a policy shift because it would:
"reward Israeli bad behavior."
He describes this approach, patronizingly, as:
"certainly the morally satisfying one for those who have spent decades working to counter Israeli building outside the Green Line."
He continues, even more patronizingly:
"The problem with it is that in occupying the moral high ground, it makes a solution harder rather than easier."
He concludes, in the same patronizing voice, that:
"a change in how the U.S. views and treats settlements will lead to frustration for many..."
This is a textbook example of a straw man (or in this case, straw woman) argument.
Nowhere in my recent article do I argue - and nowhere have I ever argued - that refusing to reward Israeli bad behavior should be a reason not to shift U.S. settlement policy. My position is that such a policy shift would in concrete ways undermine the chances of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have offered specific, factual arguments for why I believe this to be the case. Koplow, rather than trying to refute any of these arguments, mis-characterizes my position and ignores my arguments altogether. For the record, my arguments, articulated in my recent article and in previous publications (see here, here, and here), boil down to the following:
- Shifting U.S. policy to green light some settlement activity would mean scrapping the fundamental precept upon which all Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts are based: the acceptance of the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations and for future borders.
- The suggestion that such a shift would facilitate a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict makes sense only if one belongs to the school of thought that believes the U.S. can dictate to the Palestinians what they "need" in a permanent status agreement. It is precisely this kind of thinking that has continually compromised the ability of U.S. negotiators to act as effective brokers for peace.
- This school of thought is oblivious to the core Palestinian conviction about Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts: that the Palestinians made their major concession for peace more than twenty years ago, when they agreed - not without controversy and objections - to talks based on the 1967 lines, giving up claims to the 78% of historic Palestine that is now sovereign Israeli.
- On the ground, a shift in U.S. policy to support settlement construction in those areas that Koplow and others feel are less problematic (i.e., settlement "blocs" and areas inside the barrier) would undermine the potential for the future development of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
- Future negotiations over isolated settlements, which cannot possibly remain in place, will be relatively easy. Future negotiations over the settlement "blocs" - questions of their size and shape, how they will be attached to Israel, and the land swaps that will be necessary to offset them - will be the real problem.
- Based on the facts on the ground today, it would already be difficult to reach an agreement on the answers to these questions that would both meet Israeli demands and permit the establishment of a contiguous, viable Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Further construction will make agreement even more difficult, if not impossible.
- Further construction also threatens to make any agreement impossible, given that Israel does not have sufficient land reserves to compensate for all the areas that it wants to keep in the West Bank through one-to-one land swaps. If such land swaps are not possible, an agreement will likely be impossible.
- As a result, shifting U.S. policy to green light some settlements would concretely undermine the chances of reaching an agreement on the ground. Politically, it would deprive already weakened pro-diplomacy, anti-armed-struggle Palestinian leaders of their last shred of legitimacy and likely end the land-for-peace effort that began in Madrid more than two decades ago, setting the stage for even greater violence than we are seeing today. Likewise, it would be a boon to one-staters of all stripes, including hard-line Palestinians, post-Zionist Israelis, and the BDS movement, who would join Israeli hardliners in celebrating the end of the land-for-peace, two-state era.
- Such a policy shift would also directly harm the interests and credibility of the United States, putting the U.S. at odds with international consensus and international law settlements, and marking the end of the ability of the U.S. to act in any way as an honest broker of peace efforts.
These are pragmatic, realistic, fact-grounded arguments against a shift in U.S. settlements policy, and they deserve to be judged - or challenged - on their merits (the Obama Administration, having done its own analysis, appears to have come to a conclusion that is similar to mine ). Likewise, Koplow's own case for changing U.S. settlements policy deserves to be studied and judged on its merits. However, in making his case, Koplow cannot simply ignore or condescendingly misrepresent the arguments on the other side.