The National
May 26, 2009 - 12:00am

Benjamin Netanyahu waited until he returned to Israel to tell the truth. Free from the strictures of Washington, the Israeli prime minister has let the world know how intransigent his government intends to be in the peace process. We are told that there will be no halt to the construction of settlements. In fact, there appears to be little inclination on the part of the Israeli leadership for any progress on the peace process.

The mindset of Israel’s leadership is summed up best in the premier’s own words: “Our situation today is different from our situation between 1996 and 1999. Our priorities must be in line with national security needs and we must unite in order to deflect the danger.” He is, of course, referring to his last stint as prime minister during which he signed, or was coerced into signing, the Wye River Memorandum, the agreement to implement the Oslo Accords. His message was that so long as Iran pursues its nuclear ambitions, Israel cannot afford to make peace.

This runs contrary to the White House view, which is that Iran is a separate, or at best tangential, issue to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Additionally, Israel persists in belittling the role that settlements play in the peace process. Moshe Ya’alon, the minister of strategic affairs, resurrected the tired excuse that, “even when Israel pulled out [of the Palestinian territory], the terror continued”. What he neglects to mention is that continued settlement construction presents Israel’s enemies with easy proof of Israeli dissembling in the peace process. Despite this, Israel is making every effort to ensure that settlement construction continues. Both the prime minister and Mr Ya’alon have said that a freeze on settlement construction will not halt the so-called “natural growth” of established settlements. However, there is also an element of political gamesmanship in these statements.

Barack Obama’s desire for Israel to fulfil its obligation under the road map to peace to halt settlement construction puts the Likud-led government in an extremely difficult position. If it acquiesces, it risks alienating its base of support among right-wing Zionist Israelis. If it attempts to fight the US on this issue it may very well find itself out of power anyhow: Israelis tend to see good relations with the US as a vital national interest. Thus far Likud and its allies appear to have decided to rally their base, with ministers jockeying with one another to be the spokesperson for the settlers. It would seem that they are hoping their exercise in brinkmanship with Washington will eventually erode Mr Obama’s position so that any concessions they must ultimately make can be held up as a victory for the Israeli Right.

They could not be more wrong. Israel’s ceaseless touting of security concerns to justify its unwillingness to withdraw from the West Bank, and before that from Gaza, sound increasingly hollow. The threat to Israel proper is now reduced to poorly-aimed rockets that do little real damage. In a way, Israel is a victim of its own success. With the security wall almost complete, the dreaded suicide bomber seems a threat from a bygone era. This made the horrors of the Gaza offensive all the more outrageous to the world. Israel must realise that the world is growing tired of well-worn excuses. Momentum for peace is building, and if Israel continues to stand in the way it could very well find its position extremely lonely.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017