This week, despite the Israeli prime minister's pledge at the Annapolis peace conference of a "settlement freeze," the Israeli government announced plans to build hundreds of new homes in the occupied West Bank. Israel's announcement of new settlements came after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said "Settlement activity should stop - expansion should stop."
According to the Israeli organization Peace Now, plans for new settlements have accelerated since the Annapolis conference.
As U.S. policy has long recognized, settlements undermine prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict. They make it more difficult for future Israeli governments to compromise. They also reduce Palestinian support for negotiations, since they appear to confirm the view that negotiations will not end the conflict.
The notion that the U.S. can't wield effective influence over the Israeli government on this policy is absurd. As the world knows, the U.S. is the primary economic, military, and diplomatic backer of the Israeli government.
It's true that the Israeli government faces domestic political constraints. While the majority of the Israeli population resents the settlements policy and the grief it causes for Israel, settlement expansions are strongly supported by a powerful minority.
But on the other hand, the overwhelming majority of the population of Israel understands and accepts that the government is constrained by its relationship with the United States. If the U.S. simply stood firm on its own policy, Israeli society would accept this.
But the U.S. is not standing firm. The perception in Israel - and throughout the Middle East - is that the U.S. policy is phony. The policy, it is perceived, is to state opposition but not take steps to make that opposition effective.
This policy could easily be changed. What is missing is the political will to do so. It's simply a question of priorities. If the U.S. put one-tenth as much diplomatic muscle into pressing for a freeze of settlement construction as it has into trying to get Iraq to privatize its oil industry, an effective settlement freeze would already be in place.
A moderate increase in U.S. public pressure on the U.S. government could force this minimal change in U.S. government policy towards justice and reason. Ask your Members of Congress to stand for peace.