Issa Samander
December 14, 2009 - 1:00am

The US administration was very quick to announce its appreciation of the Israeli right-wing government's decision to temporarily and partially halt settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories. In doing so, Washington has only shown its weakness. If the US cannot convince Israel even to properly freeze settlement construction in occupied territory, then how will it convince Israel to dismantle settlements? And if that doesn't happen, what then for the two-state solution?

One wonders how many lessons and how much more violence is needed before the US administration understands that its credibility is directly connected to the actual steps that accompany American officials' statements about Palestinian rights to independence and freedom. Palestinians have learned their lesson: US statements are just words, public relations exercises that have nothing to do with achieving peace here and in the region.

I work with land and housing rights but I am just an ordinary Palestinian. As such, I find it incongruous that almost all countries in the world, the UN, Amnesty International, the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, even Israeli human rights organizations agree that settlements are a major obstacle to peace and the two-state solution, yet these colonies continue to expand and spread. The United Nations, and with it the entire community of nations, has clearly denounced settlements as illegal. Practically, years of negotiations have foundered on their existence.

President Mahmoud Abbas has been working against the odds. He put all his eggs in the basket of negotiations. That, he told us, was the only sure way to achieve our rights and the only way the US would help. Toward this end, he has worked diligently and seriously. Yet he secured not even a single "good will" gesture from the Israeli government, not even on so-called settlement outposts, settlements illegal even under Israeli law. And from the Americans: only their appreciation of Israel's settlement construction "freeze".

And what is this freeze? It is a temporary, 10-month construction halt for private housing units not already approved in some parts of the occupied territory. East Jerusalem is exempted, as are 3,000 housing units already approved and buildings "necessary for normal life", from synagogues to kindergartens. It is, in other words, not a freeze at all.

And these exceptions are granted to appease settlers, people who have repeatedly engaged in outrageous behavior toward Palestinians and their properties, burning their fields, cutting their olive trees, stealing agricultural products and, as late as last week, burning down a mosque and painting fascist slogans on its floor. Settlers and their presence on occupied territory are the fuel for the coming fire. They have become greedier, these settlers, and even as they object to their government's policy, they know as well as Palestinians do that there is no freeze and that, on the contrary, we will witness another huge wave of construction. After all, who will count the 3,000 units? Who will determine what is necessary for "normal life"? And whose normal life matters here?

This is the moment of truth for the American administration. This is the time when sides are chosen. This is when Washington needs to make absolutely clear that all settlement construction in all occupied territory needs to end, that settlement outposts need to be dismantled, that Israel needs to abide by the agreements it itself has signed. No Palestinian will be convinced by anything less. Words have no meaning any more. Not until the bulldozers stop working on our land, either to build their houses or tear down ours, will Palestinians have any confidence in the many political opportunists that litter our landscape. No smile will be broad enough or handshake sincere enough if it is not accompanied by real change. No negotiations can be trusted or invested with any faith in the absence of demonstrable progress.

Move the settlers back to Israel. Let them behave there the way they behave in occupied territory. Let Israelis know what they have unleashed on us. And don't be fooled by the recent quiet. Palestinians have nothing left to lose. Let us hope that the US gathers its courage and strength and begins to truly work for peace-


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