The US, UN and Palestinian Authority – among others – castigated the government’s decision this week to move forward with building plans for 1,500 residential units beyond the 1949 armistice line.

“We do not consider continued settlement activity or east Jerusalem construction to be steps that create a positive environment for the negotiations,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the move “contrary to international law” and “an obstacle to peace.”

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said the announcement “destroys the peace process and sends the international community the message that Israel does not respect international law.”

The government’s declaration that it would be building coincided with the release of the second group of 26 terrorists, most of them responsible for the deaths of Israeli citizens, arrested before the signing of the Oslo Accords.

We find it problematic that this government is using building beyond the Green Line as a quid pro quo for prisoner releases. Building in east Jerusalem and in settlement blocs should never be construed as a form of punishment against the Palestinians or as an “evening of scores.” Rather, it should be a natural outcome of population growth. At the same time, we can understand the political expediency of emphasizing building to blunt criticism – particularly on the Right – of the unpopular move of freeing murderous terrorists.

Notwithstanding US, UN and Palestinian claims to the contrary, Israeli building is not an obstacle to peace.

Most of the announced projects are slated for places such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Betar Illit and east Jerusalem.

In any two-state solution that would conceivably receive broad Israeli support, these places would remain part of the Jewish state.

For US administrations at least since the Clinton era, the notion that Israel must retreat to the 1949 armistice lines and that east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – the cradle of Jewish history – must be made judenrein is hardly a given.

The 2000 Clinton parameters, US president George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon, negotiations prime minister Ehud Olmert conducted in 2008, all were based on the principle that Israel would retain major settlement blocs in any two-state solution.

Earlier this month, Peace Now published a report titled “The two-state solution is still alive 20 years after Oslo” that noted most Jewish population growth in Judea and Samaria was concentrated in settlements that would remain part of Israel according to the Geneva Initiative.

The Jewish population living in Judea and Samaria has indeed tripled since 1993 – right before the signing of the Oslo Accords – from 110,000 to 341,000. But 64 percent of the population growth has occurred in cities and towns such as Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit and Ma’aleh Adumim.

The idea that Jewish settlements are “an obstacle to peace” is based on the morally repugnant premise – supported by the international community – that the very presence of Jews in these territories is an affront to the Palestinians, while Palestinians expect Israel to absorb not just the 1.6 million Arabs with Israeli citizenship but also an unknown number of Palestinian “refugees.”

This should not be surprising considering the fact that Muslim countries regularly persecute religious and ethnic minorities without incurring serious international condemnation. Why should a Palestinian state be any different? The real obstacle to peace remains Palestinians’ rejection of the very idea of a uniquely Jewish state. Decades before Judea and Samaria came under Israeli control and “settlements” began to be built, Palestinians opposed the very existence of a “Zionist entity.” To this day Palestinians harbor hopes that Palestinian “refugees” will be allowed to settle in Israel; they deny the Jewish people’s ties to the Land of Israel; they refuse to see the Jews as a distinct people that has a right to its own state.

Peace will come the day that the Palestinian people recognize the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination in its historical homeland. Blaming settlements misses the point.

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