Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s full cabinet will meet today later today to discuss the most recent American incentives package, which in a quid pro quo, Israel is asked to freeze construction of settlements in the West Bank for an additional three months. Although it has not been in the news for the past few weeks, the stated goal of the Americans in obtaining another building freeze is to hammer out borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If such an agreement on borders is reached, as the American logic goes, there will no longer be any ambiguity as to where it is permissible for Israel to build – only on the western side of the border. However, the arrangement becomes problematic if the two sides are unable to delineate borders by the end of the building freeze.

Construction in Gush Etzion, West Bank

Settlement construction in Gush Etzion, West Bank - CC license - by afps14

I found an article by former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt, Daniel Kurtzer, (written last year) about the history and context of American policy towards Israeli settlements this morning.  In addition to providing a very thorough and well-written explanation of why the settlements are such a big deal, Kurtzer outlines the history of official American policy towards the legal status of the settlements and continued Israeli building in the occupied territories. Here are some excerpts:

Every U.S. administration since 1967 has argued strongly against Israeli settlement activity. During the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the United States took the view that settlements are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance made this clear in Congressional testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, on March 21, 1980:

U.S. policy toward the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is unequivocal and has long been a matter of public record. We consider it to be contrary to international law and an impediment to the successful conclusion of the Middle East peace process. . . . Article 49, paragraph 6, of the Fourth Geneva Convention is, in my judgment, and has been in the judgment of each of the legal advisers of the State Department for many, many years, to be . . . that [settlements] are illegal and that [the Convention] applies to the territories.

During the first Bush administration in 1989, UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering said:

Since the end of the 1967 war, the U.S. has regarded Israel as the occupying power in the occupied territories, which include the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The U.S. considers Israel’s occupation to be governed by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Geneva Conventions concerning the protection of civilian populations under military occupation.

Jumping to the the most recent George W. Bush administration, the president in 2002 said, “Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop.” His Roadmap for Peace explicitly stated that “in the first phase of Roadmap implementation”:

GOI [Government of Israel] immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001.

Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).

Looking back at where previous presidents (the full list of positions includes Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II) – most of whom were considered “friends of Israel” – positioned themselves vis a vis Israeli settlement construction, it raises questions as to why Barack Obama is resorting to literally bribing the Israelis to stop what it has long defined as contrary to international law and what Bill Clinton described as “absolutely” being obstacles to peace.


More to come later today after the cabinet meets to discuss the American proposal.