The flurry of excitement over the P5 + 1 talks in Geneva this week relegated Israel-Palestinian peace talks to the fringes of diplomatic concern. With the resumption of Iranian nuclear talks scheduled for 20th November, the peace process will now return to the forefront of international thinking. Netanyahu has found propitious circumstances in which to bury the news of increased settlement building. With focus concentrated on the fallout from Geneva, the news that 24,000 new homes are to be built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, will not receive the coverage that it merits.
To be clear, the building of these additional housing units is not yet imminent. The current stage sees the Israeli Housing Ministry issue tenders (which it did so at the end of October) for the construction of new units. These are not the actions of a government committed to making the decisions vital in driving forward the peace process. It is yet another example of Netanyahu paying lip service to the idea of a peace process in theory, but impeding efforts to make any headway.
Most importantly, tenders have been issued in East Jerusalem for 4,000 new units, with 1200 issued in the highly sensitive E1 area between Jerusalem and Ramallah (where the Palestinian Authority is based). Kerry has re-iterated that the expansion of the settlement program is illegitimate in the eyes of the US, but nothing is being done to stunt the mushrooming of further settlements.
Netanyahu has long been a law unto himself. Even Avigdor Lieberman has called on Netanyahu to mend ailing ties with the US in recent days. Still, Netanyahu’s expansionist policies fly in the face of international condemnation of Israeli action in a future Palestinian state. Fresh from his ridiculous rejection of an as yet formulated deal at Geneva, Netanyahu continues to force Israel into plowing a lone furrow towards international isolation, irking his American paymasters in the process. With the re-introduction of Lieberman to Israeli politics this week, decision-making at the highest levels of the Israeli government will only shift even further to the Right.
Whilst Netanyahu remains in charge, and there appears little stomach to fight his radicalism, the Israeli-Palestinian track will remain an intractable issue.
On Iran, though a deal was not reached this week, the most intense period of diplomatic activity in the past 30 years must be seen as a positive. The hope remains that Zarif and Rouhani do not get beaten back by hardliners, and that Congress remains steadfast in not imposing more sanctions on the Iranian economy. Removing an Iranian nuclear threat remains an issue of paramount importance to the global order, but it is a threat that can be removed.
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