...meantime, down in the bazaar

10/17/2010 07:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dr. Charles G. Cogan Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School

Asked about Netanyahu on radio station KFNX (L.A.) on October 15, I replied in the vernacular: "he seems to be jerking us around."

After refusing any extension of the 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank, Mr. Netanyahu now turns around and says he would agree to a two-month extension, provided the Palestinians accept the formulation that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. That would leave the Arab population inside Israel, some 20 per cent of the total, in a sort of juridical limbo. The famous short story of the Civil War period, "The Man Without a Country," comes to mind.

The irony is that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal in international law: according to Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention (August 12, 1949), "The occupying power will not be able to proceed to deportation or to transfer its own population into the territories occupied by it."

Then, on October 14, Netanyahu endorsed a new provocation: permits are to be issued for the construction of 238 new housing units in East Jerusalem - occupied territory like the West Bank and therefore subject also to the above Article 49. (Netanyahu had exempted East Jerusalem from the 10-month moratorium on settlements on the grounds that all of Jerusalem belongs to Israel. However, settlement construction in East Jerusalem had been held off during the moratorium period).

Clearly, both sides - Washington and Tel Aviv - are down in the bazaar while a crucial issue - the settlements - hangs in the balance in the now-stalled peace negotiations. On the one hand, Netanyahu initially raised the issue of the release of Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli convicted of spying against the U.S.. Then came the declaration about nature of the Israeli state. Both were extraneous to the issue of the settlements, as was the sweetener offered by the U.S. for a 60-day extension: more military equipment, an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley as part of an eventual settlement, and a promise to veto anti-Israeli resolutions in the United Nations.

The one thing that the emergence of the settlement issue has produced is that it has thrown into bold relief the utter incompatibility between the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the ideal of a two-state solution, with Israeli and Palestine coexisting in peace, side by side.