Tuesday, July 20, 2010

After the freeze

It’s been awhile since I updated this blog and almost a week since I attended the IPCRI event in Jerusalem regarding what happens after the Israeli settlement freeze policy comes to an end. Along with the ever present Gershon Baskin, the Palestinian negotiator, Khalil Toufakji, and the Ha’artez journalist, Akiva Elder, were on the panel.

The central message that came out of the discussion was the narrow window available for the US to take a lead. The settlement freeze comes to an end (although this is on new settlements, not ones that were already under construction – so it was never a complete freeze) in September which poses an awkward – in Gershon’s words, a ‘dangerous’ – time until the American congressional elections in November. That’s about two months were the American position is likely to be (ironically) frozen.

Elder suggested that if the Democrats lose the House this will show that AIPAC has been working overtime to weaken their vote. If they win that would give Obama about a year to be free to act in a more independent manner on Israel-Palestine without any interference with the Jewish lobby. Gershon has picked up on the one year point in his piece in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post, in which he points out that from November 2011 Obama will be focusing attention on his re-election campaign.

So timing seems to be everything. But in the post-panel discussion afterwards, I asked for some reflections on the previous reversal in terms of settlement policy, during the ‘disengagement’ in Gaza (I call it ‘disengagement’ because while the settlements are no longer there, the siege remains in place). Elder wasn’t that positive about the decision, saying that it had been a unilateral one and that for many Israelis the attitude has been mixed, with many seeing the removal from Gaza as giving something up for nothing.

Meanwhile, Gershon pointed out that the disengagement showed that things that are done can be undone, including the removal of settlements. He said it was telling that the head of the settlement movement had accepted the need for withdrawal from Gaza but that there were also lessons to be learned. In particular this included not pulling down the houses, since they could have been bequeathed to the Palestinians and that the Israeli state has largely forgotten the settlers, with many of them still homeless today. The same mistakes shouldn’t be made in the West Bank – if it comes to that.

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