Did Israel Freeze the Settlements?

Today, as President Barack Obama meets with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, the Israeli government is going public with an already existing and unofficial "settlement freeze" that would halt new construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem until 2010.

Israeli Housing Minister Ariel Atias told Israel Radio this morning that "no tenders have been issued for Judea and Samaria" since the start of the Netanyahu government five months ago.  He further acknowledged that "We are in a holding pattern ... an attempt, I believe, to reach an understanding with the U.S. administration and a comprehensive peace agreement."

President Obama's peace initiatives are clearly shaking up the status quo as the various stakeholders aim to position themselves for a resumption of peace negotiations. It cannot be a coincidence that the Israeli announcement comes today, perhaps in hopes that it will encourage President Mubarek to make confidence-building gestures that would, in turn, win over the Israeli public.

The Israeli announcement is a step forward -- as the Arab states have consistently said that such measures are dependent on an Israeli commitment to a settlement freeze -- but it still falls far short of the full freeze in construction that the United States is requesting, and to which Israel has previously committed itself.

Peace Now (Shalom Acshav) reports that more than 1,000 housing units previously approved by the government are currently under construction in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem and remain unaffected by this announcement.

As pro-Israel/pro-peace Jews we must back our President's peace efforts to push for real and lasting change on the ground.

We’ve Got Your Back on a Complete Settlement Freeze, Mr. President  pdf

[President Obama] "wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions..."
-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, May 27, 2009

A settlement freeze is critical to progress in the peace process.
It is clear that many settlements will need to be evacuated to make way for an eventual Palestinian State. A complete settlement freeze would send a strong signal to the Palestinians and to the Arab world that Israel is committed to a two-state solution to the conflict and encourages Arab leaders to be more forthcoming with regard to President Obama's request for confidence-building measures toward Israel.

A settlement freeze is in America's best interest.
Every administration since President Johnson has called on Israel to halt settlement construction, an impediment to peace and stability in the region. Israel's settlement policy has been a source of tension between American and Israeli leaders, and has led to much anger on the Arab street. Given the Obama administration's efforts to mend ties with the Arab world -- in part, to help Israel achieve a secure peace -- the administration needs Israel's leadership to cooperate on this important issue by fulfilling its previous obligations to stop settlement activity.

A settlement freeze is in Israel's best interest.
The settlement enterprise has been militarily, politically, and economically costly to Israel. Settlements have been a huge military burden on Israel, which has employed an estimated 100,000 armed personnel to defend the settlers -- diverting the army's efforts to fighting terrorism and ensuring the security of Israel. Politically, the settlements have harmed Israel's international standing, alienated its neighbors, divided the Israeli public, and threaten to undermine Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state. Economically, settlements have diverted important resources that could have gone to pressing socio-economic needs in Israel proper. The government spends about ten times more money on settlers than on the other 97% of Israeli citizens. Settlers enjoy  inexpensive housing, heavily subsidized social services, and generous building permits -- in contrast to everyone else in Israel, Arab or Jew. In total, the settlement movement has cost Israel between $50 billion to $100 billion since 1967.

A settlement freeze is consistent with Israel's legal obligations.
Israel committed itself to a freeze on settlement expansion when it signed the Oslo Peace Accords, and again when it ratified the Road Map to Peace. The Obama Administration is  asking Israel to abide by its own commitments, just as it is pressing the Palestinian Authority to meet its obligations to end violence and anti-Israel incitement.

The "Natural growth” argument is a poor justification for the expansion of  settlements.
The Israeli government claims that it must expand existing settlements to accommodate "natural growth," i.e., the housing needs of growing Jewish families.  Yet, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, over a third of the “natural” growth has come from immigrants, and nearly half of all planned expansion serves to accommodate new settlement. Further, nowhere inside the Green Line does the government fund housing to accommodate growing families. Moreover, Arab citizens of Israel – particularly those in East Jerusalem – have been denied the right to expand their homes due to natural growth; often, their expanded homes have been demolished by government order.  Therefore, as Labor Party’s MK Ophir Pines recently stated, “All of the talk about ‘natural growth’ in the settlements is a bluff, and the Americans know that.” 


"Understanding President Obama" Fact Sheets

We’ve Got Your Back on a Complete Settlement Freeze, Mr. President  pdf

We've Got Your Back as You Stand with Israel, Mr. President  pdf

We've Got Your Back on Building Arab Support for Peace, Mr. President  pdf

We’ve Got Your Back on Palestinian Accountability, Mr. President  pdf

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