Less than three weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed the settlements moratorium to expire despite Palestinian threats of walking away from peace talks, Israel has announced plans to build 238 new settler homes in the Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem. The consistent U.S. position during the peace process has been that Israel should halt settlement growth, but that opposition has clearly not worked. As Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas considers whether to continue in peace talks, which he had pledged to abandon if Israel built more settlements, can the U.S. do anything to keep the process going?
- East Jerusalem's Significance The New York Times' Ethan Bronner explains, "While East Jerusalem was not a part of the pivotal, 10-month construction moratorium in the West Bank, the Palestinians want it as their future capital and the world views it no differently from the West Bank — conquered territory which should not be built upon by the victor. ... American-brokered talks between Mr. Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, have been stuck since late last month when Israel’s construction freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank expired. The Palestinians, backed by the Arab League, have given the United States the month of October to find ways to get Israel to keep the construction stopped. They are threatening otherwise to end the talks."
- Israel Scaled Back Plans at U.S. Insistence Ha'aretz's Nir Hasson reports, "Israeli officials said they discussed the construction with the U.S. administration and cut the number of planned units to temper American displeasure." Hasson adds, "This was the first time a tender has been issued for East Jerusalem since U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel last March, when it was announced that 1,600 housing units would be built in the area despite the settlement freeze."
- Palestinians Considering 'Other Options' Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating writes, "The announcement is likely to deal a significant blow to the latest round of peace talks, which began in September. Palestinian negotiators have threatened to pull out of the U.S.-sponsored talks unless the settlement freeze is extended. 'This announcement is a very clear-cut indication that the choice of Mr. Netanyahu is settlements, not peace,' chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.The Israeli prime minister's office has not yet commented on the announcement. On Friday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit said that if Israel does not halt construction, the Arab League will pursue other options, including asking the United Nations to recognize the Palestinian state. He said the request could come as early as next month."
- U.S. Planning Response Politico's Ben Smith reports, "A source close to the White House tells me the State Department is preparing its first public pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the relationship warmed up earlier this year. ... Much of the reaction from all sides will depend on the exact calibration of the criticism, and State's reaction will of course depend on exactly what Netanyahu says today."
- Real Test Is for U.S.-Israel Relations Commentary's Jonathon Tobin fumes, "This issue is precisely the one that caused a blowup between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government last spring, when Washington seized on another such innocuous announcement and declared it a mortal insult to the United States because Vice President Biden happened to be passing through the town at the time. ... However, with the midterm elections only a few weeks away, the immediate political incentive to downplay the president’s distaste for Israel’s government and his willingness to butt heads with it over Jewish rights in Jerusalem will be removed. ... It remains to be seen whether the administration’s Jewish charm offensive will remain in place after November 2."
- World's Eyes on Obama to Pressure Israel The Hindu's Atul Aneja writes, "Israel's refusal to extend the settlement freeze has deeply embarrassed President Obama, who has publicly exhorted it to stall West Bank construction for some more time. But with the Netanyahu administration refusing to budge from its maximalist positions, and President Obama unwilling to exercise Washington's leverage over Israel to force it to change course, a rare opportunity for a meaningful and fair dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians may once again rapidly slip from grasp."