Recent statements by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer are inflammatory and irresponsible. They damage peace prospects and erode Israel’s standing in the world.
The statements follow a series of Israeli government moves to ramp up settlement construction especially in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem across the Green Line. The latest announcement on Monday cleared the way for 1,060 new housing units and was condemned by the State Department as “incompatible with Israel’s stated desire to live in a peaceful society.”
In response, Netanyahu told the Knesset that it was the criticism and not the decisions to build settlements which made peace more distant. “These words are detached from reality. They foster false statements among the Palestinians,” he said.
Netanyahu went even further when answering a lawmaker’s question, saying that he was “committed to construction in every part of Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank).” If this is the prime minister’s true commitment, it would negate his policy of ever reaching a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.
These government decisions erect one obstacle to peace after another and the prime minister’s statements only further isolate Israel internationally and alienate its supporters.
As State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said earlier this month, in response to yet another Israeli settlement announcement:
“This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations and… call into question Israel's ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement.”
In addition, we are greatly concerned by a statement by Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, which alleged that President Abbas promoted hatred of Jews and which said that it was “an embarrassment that anyone in the world embraces this man as a peacemaker.”
J Street has been consistent in demanding that all leaders avoid inflammatory language and we are critical of statements by Abbas that we believe have gone too far.
However, Dermer’s words contradict the testimony of other Israeli leaders. Only last June, Israel’s then-president and elder statesman, Shimon Peres, hailed Abbas as a great leader, calling him the best peace partner Israel has ever had, and saying he was “risking his life” to take a principled position against terrorism.
And former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the 2012 J Street National Conference:
"No one can say to me after hundreds of hours of discussing peace with Abu Mazen (Abbas) that he is not a partner because he doesn’t want peace. He wants peace with Israel and he accepts the existence of Israel as Israel declares itself to be."
It is tragic that Dermer, echoing the words of Netanyahu, seems to have written off Abbas as a partner. He may not be ideal but he has renounced violence and stuck by that policy and he has consistently stated his desire for peace and a two-state solution.