The Israelis finally agreed to a 10-month moratorium on settlements in the occupied West Bank. This proposal does not include East Jerusalem, also occupied in 1967, and the would-be capital of a Palestinian state.
Israel will attempt to characterize this as a painful concession in a sincere quest for peace, but in reality this is no concession at all.
In 2003, the Road Map for Peace adopted by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and the Russian Federation, set forth that the first Israeli obligation was to stop settlements. Yet, in every year since 1994, when the Oslo Accords established a framework for peace negotiations, the world has seen more settlers, settlements and the expansion of existing settlements.
Settlements contravene U.S. policy on this issue and international law. A plethora of U.N. resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention (to which Israel is a signatory) decry the colonization of Palestinian land.
In effect, what the Israeli prime minister has said is "I’ll stop breaking the law, in only some places, and only for a limited period of time."
This does not meet the Road Map expectations of 2003, so to frame this as a concession in 2009 makes it clear to the Palestinians that Israel will not be held accountable by any American administration.
Israeli spokesmen tell Americans that they want peace, but their consistent acts of colonization speak to different intentions.
Palestinians would be fools to fall for this ploy again after years of seeing Israel disregard its obligations while Palestinians continue to live under occupation and the threat of sanctions if they do not march to the beat of Washington’s drum. In fact, only days after the announcement of this moratorium, Israel has approved many new settlement homes in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s exclusion of East Jerusalem is especially problematic. When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, it unilaterally increased the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem from 6.5 square kilometers to 71 square kilometers. This encompassed many Palestinian towns, including all of Arab East Jerusalem – home to more than 260,000 Palestinians.
Through active policies of home demolition, evictions and the revocation of residencies, Israel pursues ethnic cleansing in the epicenter of this conflict. In fact, Israel has revoked the residencies of 4,500 Palestinians from Jerusalem in 2008, far more than any other year since 1967.
To enter into negotiations without a complete stop to expanding or creating settlements, including in Jerusalem, would be a de facto relinquishing of Jerusalem as a central demand for Palestinians and political suicide for any Palestinian leader.
Netanyahu knows neither Mahmoud Abbas, nor any Palestinian, could accept this. He also knows that he can spin this to seem as if he made a generous offer and the Palestinians missed another opportunity. In short, he knows this is not a concession. That’s why he made it.
Because of this, Abbas seems unsure about the American position, stating last week that Obama is "doing nothing for peace."
If the United States welcomes Netanyahu’s duplicitous offer and pressures Abbas to re-enter peace negotiations while East Jerusalem continues to be colonized and cleansed, Abbas will get the message.
It’s a message that many have feared to be true since that start of the peace process: The United States is incapable of being a fair mediator between the Palestinians and Israel.