Lacking sincerity

Israel’s announcements of a moratorium on settlements in the West Bank is a half measure which does not have more than symbolic value. Israeli forces have started enforcing the 10-month restriction on construction of new housing projects, announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it may not help to restart the peace process. The Israeli cabinet had unilaterally taken the decision last week claiming that it would lead the way to resume the peace talks which were discontinued last year. The Israeli policy on settlements has been the biggest stumbling block in the peace process. The government’s  announcement said it is the furthest any government has gone to restrict settlements but is still far short of the demands of the Palestinians and the expectations of the world community, expressed in various UN resolutions and by the world court.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the Palestinians have outrightly rejected the move. The moratorium plan suffers from serious shortcomings. It is a temporary move and does not cover areas which were annexed by Israel in the 1967 war. Leaving out East Jerusalem takes away from the credibility of the move. Palestinians consider East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, which will not be viable if all settlements are not removed. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made this clear but Israel is not ready to make any concessions on this. Even the success of the moratorium is in doubt because there is strong opposition from the hawks in the country and the settlers’ lobby. Even the Netanyahu government is hawkish and there are pro-settler parties in the coalition government. The lakhs of settlers have resisted the move to stop fresh constructions. They have accused the Netanyahu government of succumbing to US pressure and sacrificing the interests of Israel.

A total freeze on constructions will send out a positive signal of Israel’s intentions to resume  negotiations. An international plan drawn up six years ago had proposed a total freeze and covered East Jerusalem. Since Israel is not ready to comply with the legitimate demand, it is doubtful if the government’s move will end the deadlock. The move is seen only as a publicity measure lacking in sincerity and intended to ward off US pressure. The US has welcomed the move but must put more pressure on Israel to make a more substantial gesture which can serve as a basis for talks.

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