Mahmoud Abbas 311.
(photo credit: AP/Nasser Nasser)
Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have not yet begun, and already
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to stop
In a letter sent Sunday to the Quartet – the US, the EU, the UN and
Russia – Abbas warned that if construction continues anywhere beyond the Green
Line, he will pull out of negotiations. “Settlements and peace are parallels
that don’t meet,” Abbas wrote. “If Israel continues with settlement
construction, we will withdraw from talks.”
The PA president’s letter is
clearly a response to the severe criticism directed at him by Palestinian
political and organizational figures for agreeing to return to direct talks
without preconditions. But it also highlights a major political dilemma that
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be forced to face very soon.
would be political suicide for Netanyahu to agree to maintain the “once-only”
10-month new-construction freeze he instituted throughout Judea and Samaria last
November, not to mention extending it to Jewish neighborhoods in parts of east
Jerusalem annexed after the Six Day War, as the Palestinians demand. It would
also send out the false message that Israel might be ready to evacuate all
Jewish settlements beyond the 1949 Armistice lines.
Deputy Premier Dan
Meridor’s suggestion to limit the freeze to areas located outside Jerusalem and
outside the major settlement blocs Israel intends to retain via land swaps under
a permanent accord – Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Etzion settlements – has a
much better chance of receiving broad support, and is much more
Except Abbas has now made clear that it won’t be
THE PRESENT building freeze has hit settlers hard. Most of
the 492 housing unit “violations” of the freeze, as documented by Peace Now,
were in consensus cities such as the haredi Modi’in Illit, which had 180 such
violations. This town of 45,000, which has the highest fertility rate in the
country, is located just across the Green Line.
were in the Jerusalem suburb of Givat Ze’ev (40), and in Ariel (22), Ma’aleh
Adumim (21) and Kfar Etzion (20), which are all expected to be annexed under any
future two-state solution.
These exceptions have done little to alleviate
the major “natural growth” housing shortage at many settlements.
beginning of the year 301,200 Jews lived in Judea and Samaria, according to the
Central Bureau of Statistics, about two-thirds of them in the large settlement
And population growth there is running at a brisk annual rate of 5
percent, over double Israel’s general population growth rate of
Young families living in cramped conditions are anxiously waiting
for the freeze to end so they can build homes, while veteran settlers want to
expand existing homes to accommodate their growing families. And this is
happening at a time when Israel proper, within the Green Line, is experiencing a
major housing shortage of its own.
Ruling throughout the West Bank, which
is populated by well over two million Palestinians, is not an Israeli interest.
The demographic threat to a Jewish majority is obvious. And Israel has no desire
to police a population that bitterly views itself as occupied.
decades have transpired since Israel, pre-empting an attack by the combined
armies of the Arab world in the Six Day War, ended up controlling territory,
previously held by Jordan, that had enormous Jewish historical
During this time, certain “facts on the ground” have been
created in Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs, while the Palestinian
strategic response to Israel’s presence has ranged from stubborn intransigence
to murderous resistance.
Now, after 18 months of energetic US diplomacy,
the Palestinian leader who claimed prime minister Ehud Olmert’s generous peace
offer left gaps that were “too wide,” is finally being dragged back to talks
aimed at the ostensibly shared goal of a peaceful two-state
ABBAS PURPORTS to be ready for the kind of territorial swaps
that would help facilitate an accord by formalizing the integration of the
settlement blocs into Israel, along with the Jewish east Jerusalem neighborhoods
where Israel already claims sovereignty. Yet the PA president’s demand for a
blanket building moratorium that makes no distinctions between such territories
and other, isolated settlements indicates ongoing intransigence.
has already frittered away nine months of the building freeze – an
unprecedentedly encouraging context for a genuine attempt at peacemaking. Now he
is vowing to walk away if the freeze is not merely maintained, but expanded – to
the very areas Israel reasonably insists on retaining.
It’s hardly an
optimistic harbinger for the talks ahead.