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Despite considerable pressure from both the US and Egypt to continue the settlement construction moratorium for another three months, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s senior ministers, a forum known as the septet, decided this week not to extend the freeze.
Israeli settlements in the territories that came under Israeli control as a result of the June 1967 war have long been a subject of often highly emotional debate within the United States, Israel and the international community. The Obama Administration’s decision to focus on settlements right out of the gate heightened attention on this already salient issue, but it is by no means clear that heightened attention will by itself facilitate resolution of the Palestine/Israel problem. Settlements are handy for obscuring the fundamental issue.
In seeking to constrain Israeli settlement activity, the U.S. is essentially trying to obtain additional Israeli concessions that were not formally required according to Israel’s legal obligations under the Oslo Accords. The U.S. and Israel have already negotiated specific guidelines for settlement activity so that it will not diminish the territory of a future Palestinian entity.
One may legitimately support or challenge Israeli settlements in the disputed territories, but they are not illegal, and they have neither the size, the population, nor the placement to seriously impact upon the future status of the disputed territories and their Palestinian population centers.