An End in Sight?

TEL AVIV, Israel – Every so often, there’s an article—most frequently, to confirm the collegiate stereotype, in The New York Times—that everyone’s been talking about and that I, as usual, have missed. But on the flight from Newark to Tel Aviv, when the attendant passed through the aisle offering up a selection of newspapers to suit any American political orientation—Ha’aretz for the liberals, The Jerusalem Post for the conservatives, or the Times for those who didn’t know the difference between one and the other—I stumbled upon what has proven to be, in Israel at least, the buzz article of the month.

I’m referring to Tony Judt’s “Fictions on the Ground,” in which Judt, the director of NYU’s Remarque Institute for European Studies, condemns Israel’s continued construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories. He even urges President Barack H. Obama to “remind Israelis that all their settlements are hostage to American goodwill.” Some have labeled Judt’s piece, perhaps appropriately, as anti-Zionist: yet another media big-name railing against the State of Israel. But given the tone Obama set in his Cairo Speech, Judt’s ideas, for better or for worse, are emblematic—if not the most accurate articulation—of this administration’s attitude toward Israel.

With Judt’s piece in mind—and in light of Obama’s recent call for all settlement activity to freeze—the Israeli government’s June 29 announcement to build yet another 50 homes in a West Bank settlement north of Jerusalem (which, according to Ha’aretz, could likely grow into as many as 1,450) only serves to highlight just how contentious “the settlement issue” has become between Israel and its closest ally-cum-benefactor.

Almost, it seems, in response to the outrage in Obama’s America over continued settlement expansion—of which “Fictions on the Ground” is perhaps the most vehement condemnation—the Israeli government appears to be making some concessions. But, the problem is that Israel’s concessions on settlement expansion seem thus far to be little more than necessary measures to appease the United States. Like the obligatory discussions between rebellious child and frustrated parent, these actions satisfy for the moment, but ultimately just postpone the issue.

Earlier this week, for instance, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak flew to New York to meet with US Mideast Envoy George Mitchell. After the conference, Barak told Israel Radio that he and Mitchell “focused mainly on the need for a comprehensive regional agreement,” and, later, according to The Jerusalem Post, that no Americans really think that “we can stop pregnancies or not build kindergartens where required.” Well, fine. That makes sense enough for the time being. But what happens in 5 years? In 10? In 50? As Ha’aretz’s projection of 50 new settlement homes potentially turning into 1,450 suggests, Barak’s use of the nebulous term “where required” is a dangerous loose end, one that only serves to complicate the issue rather than coming anywhere close to solving it.

Settlements, like all cities, experience population growth and the consequent need for civic resources like the kindergartens Barak mentions—that’s hardly the issue at hand. Continued rapid expansion is. And the U.S. should not accept hazy promises that could prolong a rapid rate of Israeli settlement expansion, perhaps the largest current impediment to peace between Israel and its neighbors. It’s one thing for the U.S. to deny in word alone the carte blanche that Israel enjoyed during the Bush administration, and another to take some sort of action. With regard to the settlement “freeze,” Washington would be wise to demand a clear, concrete delineation, lest, in Judt’s words, it be “played yet again for a patsy.”

James K. McAuley ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Currier House.