What’s the big deal with putting Jewish settlements in the 12.5 square-kilometer tract of hills east of Jerusalem called “E-1″? Israeli lawyer Daniel Seidemann says, “E-1 has been perceived as being a strategic meta-settlement that will make the two-state-solution impossible.” For that reason, consecutive US presidents have told Israel not build there. And the Israelis have complied. Now, that might be changing.
“This is a doomsday move,” Seidemann told a group of several journalists and US-based peace activists who accompanied him Sunday afternoon on a short tour of E-1. But he added, “it’s not going to happen tomorrow morning.” In fact, some experts believe it might not happen at all. Even so, setting off this particular “trip wire,” as Seidemann referred to it, is not insignificant.
On the bus ride up to the hilltop lookout where Seidemann spoke, I asked him if he thought the Obama administration agreed with him that building Jewish settlements in E-1 would amount to the death of the two state solution. Listen to his answer here.
Yesterday, several European countries summoned Israel’s ambassadors over the E-1 announcement for a talking-to. Russia, Germany and the UN also made noises. White House spokesman Jay Carney called the plans for settlement expansion “counterproductive.” The State Department issued this statement yesterday.
But how does Barack Obama see things? Rahm Emanuel evidently thinks the US president has been betrayed by Benjamin Netanyahu. If the window is closing on the two state solution though, Mr. Obama can blame himself as much as anyone, writes Henry Siegman.
Ha’aretz published a story yesterday based on unnamed sources that said the Europeans were considering a dramatic response to the latest Israeli settlement plan:
According to three senior diplomats from various EU countries, Britain and France were coordinating their moves against Israel, which they will reportedly implement over the next few days, and have discussed the extraordinary step of recalling their ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations. This step has never been taken before by these countries toward Israel. It would be so extreme that Britain and France may not take such action at this point but, rather, could invoke it in the case of further escalation of Israeli actions against the Palestinians. A final decision in the matter will be made today by the British and the French foreign ministers.
With this story making the rounds, I went out to the main Jerusalem market area yesterday morning to ask Israelis if they were worried about their government becoming dangerously isolated on the international stage. (Here’s the radio story.) Everyone I spoke with pretty much brushed off the criticism from Europe over settlements. Most people, however, said the Israeli prime minister might want to start listening more carefully to any criticism coming out of Washington. America, they said, is Israel’s most important ally and if President Obama has a problem with building settlements in E-1, Netanyahu might want to reconsider.
The prime minister is showing no sign of backing down.
“You have to wonder what’s going on inside the Israeli government,” Jonathan Rynhold told me last night. He’s a senior researcher at the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. “It sounds like they’re not listening to the advice they get from Israel’s advocates and supporters in Washington.”
George W. Bush opposed settlement building in E-1, Rynhold said. And the reason why Israel’s security border doesn’t extend into that area outside of Jerusalem is because there is still no agreement between the US and Israel on where the barrier should run. Now, “this building project will undermine any ability of Israel to gain diplomatic capital in Washington out of the Palestinian move at the UN,” Rynhold said. Israel, he went on to say, is going to be perceived as the party that is working against progress toward a two state solution. “It’s a serious own goal.”