At a Jerusalem press conference in with Condoleeza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni yesterday, the very first questioner cut right to the chase:
The organization Peace Now reported today that Israeli settlement activity has nearly doubled in the past year, Foreign Minister Livni, how do you reconcile that with your stated goal of trying to reach a peace agreement? And, Secretary Rice, how – what affect does this have? Does this harm or undermine the process?
I won’t bother to reprint Livni and Rice’s answers – feel free to read the transcript yourself. Suffice to say the question seemed to catch Livni flatfooted and Rice offered a tepid reiteration of the US opposition to Israel’s increased settlement activity.
What is there really to say except thank goodness for Peace Now, who has been indefatigably and faithfully documenting the growth of the settlements throughout East Jerusalem and the West Bank? I encourage you to read the new Peace Now report carefully – it paints a profoundly troubling portrait of a dramatic settlement increase since the Annapolis peace process began. Among its main findings:
– Over 1000 new buildings are being constructed in the settlements, in which approximately 2,600 housing units. Approximately 55% of the new structures are located to the east of the constructed Separation Barrier.
– According to figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics, construction in the settlements has increased by a factor of 1.8 by comparison to the same period last year. The Housing Ministry initiated 433 new housing units during the period of January – May 2008, compared to just 240 housing units during the period January – May 2007.
– 125 new structures have been added to the outposts, including 30 permanent houses. The number of tenders for construction in the settlements has increased by 550%. 417 housing units, compared to just 65 in 2007. The number of tenders in East Jerusalem has increased by a factor of 38 (1,761 housing units compared to 46 in 2007).
Most alarming, the report concludes:
In recent years the trend has accelerated to eliminate the Green Line through intensive construction intended to create a territorial connection between the blocks of settlements and isolated settlements in the heart of the West Bank.
Anyone who seeks a true and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine should be deeply alarmed by findings such as these. Whether Israel’s leaders are unwilling or simply unable to stem the settlements is moot at this point. The bottom line: the door is closing fast on a two-state solution. (Indeed, when a Palestinian moderate such as Sari Nusseibeh publically inclines toward a one-state solution, I’d say the peace process is approaching a point of reckoning.)
One more piece of assigned reading then I’ll sign off. Brit Tzedek v’Shalom is circulating a Rabbinic High Holiday letter to Obama and McCain, urging the next President to make resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority of the incoming administration. It’s already been signed by over 150 rabbis, cantors and rabbinical students – encourage yours to sign on…