J Street welcomes the US government’s strong condemnation of Israel’s latest announcement of new settlement construction in the West Bank. Yet we also urge the Obama administration to recognize that strong words have had little effect on Israeli settlement expansion and its creeping annexation of the West Bank.
It is long past time for the US to move beyond mere condemnations and to take action to put real weight behind its opposition to settlements and its commitment to the two-state solution.
This latest new illegal settlement is to be built adjacent to the existing settlement of Shiloh, on territory that is closer to Jordan than to the Green Line and cannot remain part of Israel under any conceivable peace agreement. The new settlement would take land that should be part of a future Palestinian state to provide housing for settlers currently living on private Palestinian land in the outpost of Amona.
Such is the state of Israeli policy in the West Bank today: removing a group of settlers from one illegal outpost is simply a prompt to build another new settlement nearby.
The new construction is yet another sign that placating and enabling the settlement movement is the current Israeli government’s top priority – at the expense of the two-state solution and prior commitments made to the United States.
As the State Department noted in its statement, it is particularly jarring that the Israeli government would take this step just weeks after the conclusion of an agreement that guarantees Israel the largest military assistance package in American history. Time and again over the past few years, the US has demonstrated its deep and abiding commitment to maintaining Israel’s security, while the Netanyahu government has responded with steps that jeopardize Israel’s long-term security and directly contradict long-standing bipartisan US policy.
As the White House spokesman noted, this announcement raises “serious concern” about “how good friends treat one another.” Israel and the US are great friends – but Israel’s ongoing settlement expansion demonstrates flagrant disregard for what its best friend has to say. Continuing to issue condemnations without taking action to put real weight behind them only weakens American credibility, and sends the message that Israel’s actions to undermine the two-state solution carry no consequences.
There are a number of steps that the US government can take to make clear that settlement expansion is unacceptable and runs counter to shared American and Israeli interests and values. These steps could include enforcing existing US customs regulations which require that West Bank products not be labeled as “Made in Israel;” reviewing whether tax-deductible treatment for donations to NGOs that advance settlement expansion meet US eligibility requirements; and pursuing or not vetoing a balanced Security Council resolution at the United Nations.
Without such steps, we can only expect to see this same sad scenario playing out again and again in the months ahead.