J Street Condemns New Settlement Announcement, Urges Firmer US Action

September 2nd, 2014

J Street condemns as provocative, damaging and extremely destructive to Israel and to hopes of peace a decision by the Israeli government to seize almost 1,000 acres of land in the occupied West Bank to build a massive new settlement.

The decision, both in its timing and intrinsic nature, could hardly be more negative and harmful. This has been described as the largest grab of Palestinian land for the purpose of building settlements in 30 years. It demeans and weakens Israel’s peace partner, the Palestinian Authority; it defies the will of Israel’s most important ally and friend, the United States, and it flies in the face of a broad international consensus.

Most of all, it casts serious doubt on the Israeli government's sincerity in claiming to favor a two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu says he is in favor of peace based on a two-state solution, yet almost all of the government's actions and words point to the opposite conclusion.

This decision is also a test of US seriousness in Mideast peace-making.The United States has protested settlement announcement after settlement announcement for decades – yet its opinion has been disregarded by successive Israeli governments to the point that US credibility has been called into question. How can the world expect US leadership in dealing with hostile actors across the Middle East when even its closest friend in the region flagrantly ignores its policies? It is time for the Administration to make clear to Israel that it means what it says and that US opposition to settlements is not just symbolic but real.

J Street urges the United States government to undertake a thorough review of its policy toward Israeli settlements and to announce the steps it will take if Israel goes forward with this decision. As a first step, it should declare now that it is the view of the United States that settlements are not merely "unhelpful" or "illegitimate" but illegal under international law as laid out in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

It may be true that the land being expropriated from five Palestinian villages lies within one of the settlement blocs that are likely to be retained by Israel in any prospective peace deal. But until there is such an agreement, this kind of land grab can only be seen as a blatant unilateral move to create new facts on the ground.

It is particularly unfortunate coming on the heels of last week's Gaza cease-fire which seemed to offer a new start for diplomacy in tackling the conflict. One would have thought following that war, that Israel would do everything possible to strengthen PA leaders and their pursuit of diplomacy and non-violence. Instead, this move undermines President Abbas and reinforces his opponents, including Hamas, whose abhorrent use of violence shows exactly why now is the time to empower moderate Palestinian leadership.

We urge the Israeli government to reverse this decision, to announce a settlement freeze and its readiness to return to negotiations for a final settlement based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni have already noted how much harm this decision will cause to the US-Israel relationship. Other responsible members of the ruling coalition should join them in working to reverse this decision and to move urgently to seek a two-state solution.