With regard to the future of the settlements, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has a clear policy – that of a horse thief. Addressing the Saban Forum in Washington on Friday, Lieberman proposed postponing a vote on the bill to legalize illegal outposts until after Donald Trump enters the White House. That is not a new position. A few weeks ago he opined that settlement construction should be limited to the settlement blocs in coordination with the Americans, because relations with the United States are an asset that must be preserved.
Let’s not get confused. Lieberman isn’t saying he’s against legalizing the illegal outposts; he was only trying to persuade his audience that the timing is critical, and that whoever wants to continue to build in the territories – or, as he put it, “to look out for the future of the settlements” – must adapt his moves to those of the U.S. president.
At best, Lieberman believes that Trump will be his partner in crime, or will at least forget to show interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since, after all, an American blind eye infers support. Even better, Lieberman is probably expecting Trump to offer Israel a summary document à la the letter U.S. President George Bush gave to Ariel Sharon in 2004, which Israel interpreted as including an “acceptance of reality,” i.e., the right of Israel to hold the settlement blocs.
Both these position are equally bad. The future of construction in the settlements cannot be dependent on a whim or on agreements between the Israeli government and an American president who is not well-versed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A halt to Jewish construction in the territories is first and foremost an Israeli interest that must be fought for, even if the American president decides to support it.
Expanding the settlements is a guarantee of eternal conflict and the continuation of the occupation regime with no chance of ending it. No less important is the need to oppose the bill that legalizes the outposts, which touches not just on construction in the territories but on the survival of the rule of law in the State of Israel.
The United States has traditionally tied its policy toward Israel to the latter’s readiness to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians and has seen all settlement construction as laying mines in the path of the peace process. Washington to date has served as a brake, albeit not effective enough, against the process of Israel’s diplomatic suicide.
It still isn’t clear what Trump will propose, but relying on him to give Israel permission to continue building in the settlements is akin to hoping to find a doctor who will prescribe desperately-sought but illegal drugs. Israel needs to have a clear policy that seeks peace and recognizes the incredible obstacles posed by the settlements, not one that waits for the guard to change at the White House so it can commit more crimes.
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