Obama drops settlement freeze

October 1st, 2009

On Sept. 23, President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations reiterating the United States’ opposition to continued Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.  

Despite this and U.S. pressures on Israel, Obama’s words seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Israel, at the expense of potential peace negotiations, seems determined to continue building.  

As a result of Israeli resistance, in this same speech, Obama shifted gears to also call for peace talks without preconditions, thus eliminating the necessity for an Israeli settlement freeze prior to peace negotiations. 

Pamela Mason, a political science professor at John Carroll University, said, “President Obama has been left with many looming disasters with respect to foreign policy and no one is above criticism.” 

She also said, “But in light of the glacial pace, standstills, and in some ways worsening situations, to complain that President Obama is changing or adjusting the means with which he is pursuing his goals is to condemn his distinguishing between ends and means and his determination to pursue his ends or goals in the most effective way.”

From early in his presidency, Obama has shown avid resistance towards all forms of Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. 

In fact, the administration was so bold as to assert that no peace talks should take place until Israel agrees to put a halt to their illegal settlements. This stance even includes natural growth settlements that allow for children to build homes near their parents. 

This position against Israel’s expansion in the West Bank is in accordance with international law, which finds Israel’s actions illegal and does not recognize the legitimacy of many of these communities.

While this rhetoric expresses strong sentiments, Israel’s total lack of respect toward it leaves the White House with few options other than to change course.  

Obama, as shown in his address to the United Nations, is still stressing the need for a settlement freeze. However, in light of the Israeli response, he is instead pushing more for peace talks without preconditions.  

The hopes of these talks would be to resolve, or at the very least discuss, the issues of Palestinian refugees, borders for a future Palestinian state, security between both countries, and the fate of Jerusalem.  

Working to solve these issues could have wide-ranging effects from overall security in the area to increased trade between the nations.

Although the international community, as well as Israel’s ally the United States, opposes further settlement in the West Bank, Israel views Eastern Jerusalem as part of their capital.  

Therefore, Israel, under the conservative Likud party government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was elected earlier this year, can see no reason not to continue developing communities in what it sees as its own land.  

These construction efforts have led to over 100 settlements starting in 1967 when Israel first began occupying the West Bank. 

At best, Netanyahu will agree to a limited reduction on some settlement growth, which currently is not enough to satisfy the Palestinian Authority. 

Roughly a week before Obama’s decision to scrap the settlement freeze precondition, Netanyahu approved the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank, signaling his defiance of Obama’s calls to freeze settlements.

Even with President Obama’s efforts with respect to peace talks, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, views a halt of Israeli settlement as a must before a dialogue can take place.  

Abbas believes the building of more settlements in occupied territory, which is comprised of historic Palestine, will make it too difficult to discuss the creation of a future Palestinian state.  

Overall, the Palestinian Authority seems disappointed in the lack of success from the U.S. in preventing Israeli settlement.

This shift in Obama’s tactics in the Middle East is reflective of the complicated and frustrating issues of the region.  

According to Mason, “Peace between Israel and Palestine in whatever form has alluded U.S. presidents for decades. Peace in the Middle East hinges on peace between Israel and Palestine. The two-state solution is seen by the U.S. government as the best way to achieve and maintain peace between the two countries.” 

This idea is difficult since Netanyahu and Abbas have significantly strong and contrasting goals in mind.  

For instance, Israel seeks to be recognized by the Arab nations as a Jewish state, while Palestinians  are fighting simply to establish their own state.  

This battle for land has been both violent and devastating. It has also lasted for decades and has dragged the region into four bloody wars. 

However, peace between these two groups has been a goal for the Obama Administration since day one, and he has made it his main foreign policy goal.