Recent news of Israeli settlement expansion has once-again caused a stir in the international community. Palestinians expressed outrage. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply troubled.” The U.S. Department of State displayed “concern” and was going to look into the matter. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
We have seen this dance before. What makes it particularly interesting this time is just how much of a non-story it actually is. It is time we take a harder look at the real issue at hand, bringing the two sides together in this age-old conflict. While Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank is a disconcerting factor in determining peace, the settlements themselves should not be the reason to deny the opportunity to discuss that longed-for peace.
In recent weeks, the Israeli supreme court legalized three previously-established settlements in the West Bank. Two of the settlements in question have existed for over 20 years, and the latest of the three was constructed in 1998. The claim that these were previously “unauthorized” outposts is simply not true; this was merely a matter of correcting a bureaucratic oversight. No new land was acquired or authorized for settler use that was not already used for such decades ago. To reiterate, this is the non-story.
The real story started nearly a week before this new round of “settlement outrage” when Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad backed out of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what would have been the highest-level meeting between the two foes in quite some time. As it turns out, Fayyad’s refusal to deliver a letter from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Netanyahu caused a lot of resentment from the Abbas camp, to the extent that now Abbas refuses to talk to Fayyad. It only seems right, then, that the tactic used by Fayyad against Netanyahu is now being employed against the Palestinian prime minister: the silent treatment.
Unfortunately, the silent treatment will not help the Palestinian Authority sort out its brewing civil war any more than it will help bring Israeli concessions. Israel approaches the Palestinians from a position of power, and it is up to the latter to convince Israelis that they can live side-by-side with them in harmony. Only then will Israelis elect more left-leaning governments willing to make concessions in the name of peace. Until Palestinians in general, and Abbas and Fayyad in particular, settle their issues of stability and security, they will never satisfy Israeli concerns over their own safety.
Those experienced with the conflict will say that establishing mutual trust and understanding, the two main ingredients in any lasting peace, is unlikely among the partisans of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least in the near term. While this is certainly true, that peace is made impossible to attain if the leaders from both sides do not come together and negotiate for it, establishing credibility with their opposition and building the foundation for a stable, two-state solution. That goal will not be achieved through the silent treatment.