The recent news that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are on track for a resumption has been hailed recently as a “breakthrough” for Washington, and specifically John Kerry, the secretary of state.
As part of the talks to even resume negotiations, Israel agreed to release a number of Palestinian prisoners, and the latest indications are that a few dozen or so will gain their freedom as part of the deal, which is supposed to include the release of over 100 individuals.
Not surprisingly, the decision to release the prisoners was accompanied by another step, something Israel rarely fails to resist when it comes time to talk about negotiations with Palestinians: settlement expansion.
So the world is expected to swallow Israeli leaders’ usual rationale: Releasing prisoners involves a steep price, so it must be coupled with something that appeases the “Israeli hard-liners,” whatever that means. As a result, Israel announced a decision to approve the construction of around 1,200 housing units as part of its latest, illegal settlement move.
Naturally, the Palestinians have reacted angrily at this latest move, and Israel can find little sympathy for its course of action outside Washington, its chief protector. Israeli officials have the nerve to state that the settlement approval is irrelevant, because the areas in question will “remain part of Israel” no matter what happens in the course of negotiations; in other words, the Israelis enjoy the final say when it comes to which parts of other people’s land they covet.
While the move by Israel represents nothing new, it is disturbing to see the same pattern play itself out, once again, as the U.S. desperately tries to reap political gain from supposedly overseeing a “breakthrough,” after several years of stalled peace negotiations.
If the White House was unaware that Tel Aviv intended to mix a return to peace talks with an expansion in settlement activity, it indicates the extent to which Israel runs the show, and puts its own, narrow, illegal agenda in front of any other consideration. If the White House was aware that Israel planned such a move, perhaps it is even worse, as it shows, for the 1,000th time, that Washington has no capacity or desire to be an honest broker in the largely derailed and forgotten “peace process.”
Israel is crying out for sympathy as it approves a prisoner release, and is moving ahead with the latest flagrant violation of international law on the settlement front. Once again, the Israelis are content to play their usual double game, namely criticizing their peace partners if they make any objections, and rejecting any criticism of Israel’s own policies, because it can never do any wrong.
The only stable policy is one of inflicting humiliation, whether this targets its enemies, the Palestinians, or its friends, in Washington.
The plain fact is that peace and settlements simply do not mix.