Why the World Shouldn't Support Netanyahu's Attempts to Legitimize Settlements
For the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the pressure from the EU regarding Israel’s settlements is nothing compared to the pressure of forming a majority coalition.
Netanyahu used his shrewdness and clever wordplay to charm the visiting European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Instead of balking on the issues of the peace process and what Israel calls the right of Jews to settle everywhere in “Eretz Yisrael” (Greater Israel), Netanyahu surprised Mogherini, telling her that Israel is interested in negotiating the borders of the West Bank settlement blocks.
The idea behind the offer rests on a concession made by Yasser Arafat during the failed 2000 Camp David summit regarding Palestinian acceptance of the idea of land swaps.
The Israeli leader, therefore, wants to agree on the settlement blocks that will be swapped in a future deal so as to annex those blocks to Israel and thereby avoid the claim that products made in these settlements are wrongly labelled as being made in Israel.
Of course, the concept of land swap was made on the basis of two important features that Netanyahu cleverly ignores: that it will be made as part of the two-state solution in which an independent, contiguous state will replace the current military occupation; and that it will be equal in size and extent.
It is not clear at all from the leaked report of the meeting between Netanyahu and Mogherini if either of these conditions was talked about.
Israeli Zionist parties (both Likud and Labour, and others) consistently refuse any peace agreement that includes any concessions on East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel shortly after the 1967 occupation.
The leak does not include any reference to the Jordan Valley, from where Netanyahu repeatedly refused to remove the presence of Israeli troops.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for a third-party military force, including NATO, for a period of no more than 10 years after the end of the Israeli occupation.
It is also unknown if the Israeli leader has made any specific reference to the land (in equal size and extent) Israel would give up in return for delineating the settlement blocks that Israel wants to annex.
The idea of trading high-quality Palestinian lands that sit on the West Bank’s main water aquifer, for example, for desert land does not fit the condition of equal-quality land swap.
According to Israeli press reports, the European official was so moved by Netanyahu’s statement that she replaced the internationally agreed term of two-state solution with Israel’s preferred term of two states for two peoples.
In Israeli eyes, the two peoples are not necessarily Palestinians and Israelis, but Arabs and Jews, thus reinforcing the Israeli demand of having Israel recognised as a Jewish state.
Of course, it does not require a genius to understand the Israeli goal.
As Netanyahu stated to his voters on the eve of elections, he has no plans of ceding control over all the occupied territories.
What he is trying to do is to unilaterally (or at best with Europe’s acquiescence) decide which settlement blocks Israel wants to annex; this way, Israel could legally claim that people living in these settlements and products made there can bear the label of being Israeli.
Judging from previous experience, the Israelis will most probably not even wait for an answer, but will unilaterally state the settlements it feels there is some international support to be added to Israel and will begin a process of passing Israeli laws to these settlements.
Hopefully, Netanyahu’s charm will quickly wear off and the European leader will realise that she, like so many before her, was deceived by the former salesman of used furniture.
What is needed is public commitment to end the occupation and not simply some gimmicks that are suggested in a private conversation with the aim of easing the pressure on Israel regarding its apartheid policies in the occupied state of Palestine.
What is needed is that Israel immediately freeze its illegal settlement activities and agree on a timetable for ending the occupation.
These demands, that many expect will be featured in the upcoming French resolution to the UN Security Council, can pave the way for serious negotiations that will end this decades-old nightmare that is the Israeli occupation of Palestine.