Dec. 5, 2016
- Avoiding Mistakes in Middle East Peacemaking – Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot
As the Trump administration takes shape, it would do well to avoid the mistakes of the outgoing administration that doomed its attempt at Middle East peacemaking. Rather than encouraging practical steps to improve the security and livelihood of the people it supposedly endeavored to help, President Obama heavily focused on Israeli settlements. But eight years of intensive diplomacy led to little or no results.
The administration immediately demanded an absolute freeze on Israeli housing construction not only in the entire West Bank, including in the major blocs that Israel will obviously keep in any peace agreement, but also in Israel’s capital of Jerusalem. Developments that have had massive influence on Israeli public opinion, like the deteriorating prospects for peace in Gaza despite the removal of all Israeli settlements there, were viewed from the White House and State Department as irrelevant.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, outside the five major bloc townships, a total of 6,818 housing units were approved for construction in West Bank settlements between 2009 and 2016. A separate analysis shows an increase of approximately 20,000 residents in the 70 settlements that are outside the major blocs. Israeli population in the settlements is growing, but at a rate that reflects mostly births in families already there, and not in-migration of new settlers.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian population is also growing, so that in comparative terms, the demographic balance between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank has changed very little since Obama took office. Considering all the data, the working assumptions guiding Obama’s policy were simply wrong. Settlement expansion is not speedily gobbling up the West Bank, nor has it killed off chances for peace. The writer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, handled Middle East affairs at the U.S. National Security Council from 2001 to 2009. (Foreign Policy)