Israel needs to renew the settlement freeze

The Guardian reports on US pressure on Binyamin Netanyahu to extend his 10-month freeze on the building of settlements in the West Bank ahead of meeting President Barack Obama in Washington.

The freeze is seen as essential to progressing the future of the Israeli and Palestinian proximity talks. Will Netanyahu agree to extend the freeze? He might do, even with foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman urging him not to, if you listen to what he says:  “Whoever wants peace must hold direct talks for peace. I hope this will be one of the results of the visit to Washington,” Netanyahu said.

What he also needs to do is stop the abuse by settlers of the freeze, which has been widely violated. The settlers are still building and there could be as many as 40 Israeli settlements in breech. The Israeli defence ministry alone has identified 29 settlements in violation.

If the freeze is not renewed there are as many as 40- 50,000 plans for homes already drawn up and waiting the go ahead to start building meaning failure for Israel to renew the freeze could kick off a major expansion of the settler movement. As it stands this already numbers as many as 500,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Giving settlers the green light will also further strain relations with America. Last month, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, said Israel had suffered a “tectonic rift” with America. “in which continents are drifting apart”.

The decision to renew or not renew the building programme (this excludes East Jerusalem) comes a decade after the failure of the Middle East Peace Summit at Camp David. If that failure was laid squarely at Arafat’s feet a decision not to renew the freeze on building settlements will lay the blame for the derailment of the peace process squarely with Netanyahu.