Will Ariel block peace?
Settlers walk past a controversial newly built cultural center in Ariel, West Bank. (Getty Images)
August 16th, 2011
03:27 PM ET

Will Ariel block peace?

Editor's Note: Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, from which this piece is reprinted. You can read Abrams' blog Pressure Points here.

By Elliot Abrams

If there is a single issue that explains the failure of Obama policy toward Israel, it is settlements. And this week the Administration once again indulged itself in a knee-jerk reaction that displayed incomprehension in a way that harms U.S.-Israeli relations without doing the slightest bit of good for the Palestinians.

This week Israel announced a plan to construct 277 more housing units in Ariel, a settlement that is a town of 18,000.  The new units are to be constructed in the center of  the town, it was also announced. This is a significant fact, for construction of new units at the edges of the town would mean that the security perimeter would need to be extended to protect the new housing and the people in it. But this will not happen, and Ariel will expand in population but not in land area.  It is not, in the usual Palestinian Authority parlance, “taking more Palestinian land.”

When I worked on these issues in the Bush Administration, we discussed settlement expansion thoroughly with the government of Israel and (as I have explained elsewhere) reached agreement on some principles.

These were that Israel would create no new settlements and that existing settlements would expand in population but not in land area.  New construction, that is, would be in already-built-up areas, and the phrase we used was “build up and in, not out.”

The usual complaints about new construction in the settlements were that “it is making a final peace agreement impossible” or at least more and more difficult by “taking more Palestinian land” that would have to be bargained over in the end and whose taking would right now interfere with Palestinian life and livelihoods. We understood that there would never be a long construction freeze even if there might be some brief ones, for the settlements -  especially the “major blocks” that Israel will keep - are living communities with growing families.

So we reached that understanding with the Israelis: build up and in, not out.  That way whatever the chances of a peace deal were, construction in the settlements would not reduce them.

This agreement the Obama Administration ignored or denounced, suggesting at various times that it never existed or that, anyway, it had been a bad idea and all construction must be frozen - even in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.  (To be more accurate, construction by Israeli Jews was to be frozen; construction by Palestinians could continue).

No Israeli government could long accept such terms and though the Netanyahu government did agree to a short and partial freeze, when that failed to bring the Palestinian Liberation Organization back to the negotiating table the freeze was ended.

This Obama fixation with a construction freeze proved disastrous because the President and his Secretary of State took the view that it was a precondition for negotiations without which the Palestinians could not be expected to come to the table.  Of course once that American position was announced the Palestinian leadership had to adopt it, lest they appear weaker in asserting Palestinian “rights” than Washington.

The argument over the construction freeze embittered U.S.-Israel relations and killed any chance of negotiations in 2009 and 2010.  Late in 2010 the policy was finally abandoned.  Nothing has replaced it, and no one really knows what Administration policy is these days beyond getting past September’s expected UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood.

But if the fixation on freezing construction in settlements is no longer the main pillar of Obama policy, those old sentiments and statements linger on.  Thus did the announcement that new units were to be built in Ariel evoke a new denunciation from Washington.

To be sure, it did not come from the President himself and was a pretty low-key affair; it did not suggest that new a crisis in bilateral relations loomed.  But this was a reminder that the Administration appears to have learned nothing, and still does not understand the difference between expanding a settlement physically and expanding the population of a settlement by building in already-built-up areas.

Why not?  Without dealing with the question of which individual policymakers are responsible for this foolish policy, it does seem that the policy is based on the view that every square foot of land controlled by Jordan before the 1967 war is rightly part of “Palestine,” so that every Israeli action on that land is wrong.

This view also explains why the President believes peace negotiations should start from the “1967 borders.” But there are no “1967 borders,” just the 1949 Armistice lines that all sides agreed in 1949 were not to be regarded as permanent.

It is reasonable to have the 1949 map on the table when negotiations begin, and to have next to it the 2011 map, and to seek a compromise. It is not reasonable to view it as a violation of international law and a threat to a peace agreement every time bricks and studs and drywall show up at the center of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.  In the real world those new units in Ariel do not make a final peace agreement harder.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Elliot Abrams. For more, visit his blog Pressure Points.

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Topics: Israel • Middle East

soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. Devin Sper

    Jews have an absolute moral right to live anywhere they wish to live. A Jew has the same right to live in Ariel as does an Arab to Live in Haifa. A Jew has the same right to live in Ariel as he does to live in Moscow, Berlin, or NY.

    August 18, 2011 at 12:43 am | Reply
    • FRANK SOL

      Have you heard the sentence, "LEARN USEFULLNESNESS"?...

      August 18, 2011 at 1:24 am | Reply
      • Thinker23

        What is "USEFULLNESNESS"?.

        August 18, 2011 at 6:02 am |
      • ListnSpkFix

        Hey! I remember that sentence, Bush said it in his nookler speach, right?

        August 18, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  2. FRANK SOL

    Mr Abrams, you should be israels pm, if not, you should ask the israelis for a nice salary, that be a good idea to get some of our tax payers money back.

    August 18, 2011 at 1:18 am | Reply
  3. Craig

    Ultimately, one fact remains. Regardless of any disagreement regarding borders, right of return, a sensible sharing of the area known as Jerusalem, or anything else, the basic problem is that neither side wants peace. Neither side is willing to make the slightest move to have peace. It's easier to continue the killing and arguing then to actually say "let's sit down and figure something out that's better."

    Golda Meier said it best when she observed "we will have peace when they love their children more than they hate us." The thing she didn't say was that her premise applied equally to both sides. To date, neither side loves their children, and none of the adults seem to care that their children will continue to die. In the US we sometimes talk about what sort of country we're leaving for our children. Neither side in this brawl cares.

    August 18, 2011 at 3:30 am | Reply
    • vasechek

      How can you say that when for the better part of the last 2 decades israel has been giving away control of large portions of land sometimes in exchange for promises of peace and sometimes in hopes that good will would beget good will? and consistently getting terrorism, rockets, missiles, drive-bys, homicide bombings etc. in return? name one concession the arab side made in return for control of most of the west bank and all of gaza. i will even give you symbolic measures such as recognizing israel, renouncing violence, stopping incitement, etc. let alone something tangible, like actually laying down their weapons and returning to the negotiating table in good faith.
      the sad part is that this hasn't happened not because there aren't any arabs that genuinely want peace, are tired of the conflict and are ready to ice the hate, but that they are afraid for their lives to show any signs of such sentiments – every single last one of them from a cripple on the streets of gaza to their so-called president.

      August 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Reply
  4. zoyclem

    The only thing that has blocked peace in Israel are the murderous thugs bent on killing Jews. That is the bottom line.

    August 18, 2011 at 7:37 am | Reply
  5. Stacie

    It's just so ironic that the same stuff people like this say about Israel is the same stuff american settlers said while they were exterminating the native americans: they don't "really" have a country, they're the aggressors, it's all their fault, blah blah blah. The Palestinians can forget it. Ask a Hopi about a colonizer being required to follow law.

    August 18, 2011 at 9:07 am | Reply
  6. E.Gore

    Some facts for a change:
    1. Israel pulled out of Gaza, including Jewish settlements.
    2. The Palestinians turned it into a region of poverty and terror under the direct influence of Iran..
    3. The Palestinians in the West Bank are thriving economically and could most probably live in peace with the Israelis around them if the world politicians would just take it off the US – Russia – UN – Turkey – Iran agenda.
    4. Many cooks in the kitchen will never make a good omelet.

    August 18, 2011 at 9:51 am | Reply
  7. Abdul Ameer

    The "settlements", whether building upwards or building outwards never had anything to do with peace or the lack of peace between Israel and its Moslem neighbors. On the very first day of Israel's existence, the armies of at least five Arab/Moslem countries invaded Israel with the stated intention of destroying the new nation and murdering its Jewish inhabitants. There were no "settlements" then! The Arabs/Moslems never recognized Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state in any borders. That is true today. Nothing has changed. It is not only Hamas that refuses to recognize Israel, but the PA/PLO also, and Iran, and all of the other 56 Moslem countries. That is the reason there is no peace. It has nothing to do with "settlements". To Moslems, ALL of Israel is an illegal settlement.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:19 am | Reply
  8. Steve

    My presumption is the settlement is named for Israel's war criminal Sharon.

    August 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  9. Steve

    Ariel (Hebrew: אֲרִיאֵל‎‎; Arabic: اريئيل‎) is an Israeli settlement and a city in the West Bank. Ariel was established in 1978. Its population at the end of 2009 was 17,600,[1] including 7,000 immigrants who came to Israel after 1990.[2] It is the fourth largest Jewish settlement city in the West Bank.,[3] after Modi'in Illit, Beitar Illit, and Ma'ale Adumim.

    In July 2009, the city council approved the mayor's proposal to name the city after former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The final decision is ultimately made by the Israeli government's 'Name Committee'.[4]

    August 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  10. Georgie

    "If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country....We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? ...." Who said that? Arafat? Osama? Obama?

    David Ben-Gurion, first PM of Israel (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/David_Ben-Gurion). So anyone who says that the land of Israel was anything but TAKEN from a collective of mostly non-Jews living there who are now considered "Palestinians", and GIVEN to Israelis, is hoping for short-term memories.

    Search for some of the settlers' comments, beliefs, the rabbis that lead them, right-wing Israelis (who make up 1/5 of the country and influence the Knesset much more than religious fundamentalists here in the U.S.) and such to see that they aren't saying too many things different than Hamas regarding Arabs, Palestinians or goyim for that matter.

    as far as what we hear from our media: http://www.ifamericansknew.org/

    August 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Reply
    • vasechek

      you forgot to mention the percentage of arabs that live to see the destruction of israel and death to all jews. the percentage of the people who call themselves palestinians that cheer and praise cold-blooded murders of israeli and american civilians and mourn counter-terrorism operations that punish those who commit those murders. the percentage of people who subscribe to the widely stated tenets of the palestinian factions that (while warring with each other) are united in their death to israel, death to america mantras.
      israel has been able to control their religious right and largely keep them away from taking lives of other people. Can you say the same about the arabs? and another thing you fail to mention is the israeli religious left that bends over backwards to bring about the same destruction of israel that arabs are hoping for and openly siding with the arabs who will gladly drown them in the rivers of israeli blood they hope to spill. have you any such examples on the arab side of the equation? the opposition to hamas is even more religiously intolerant and terrorism-prone than hamas itself. look at what they've done with the infidel arrigoni who actually dedicated his life to advancing the palestinian cause...

      August 18, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  11. Palestinians are the major block to peace

    Palestinian militants murder innocent civilians in Southern Israel – what else needs to be said... http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/M/ML_ISRAEL?SITE=IADES&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

    August 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Reply
  12. mercenary76

    Arabs , especially Arab Muslims seem to have difficulty peacefully co – existing with anyone . This is painfully ( usually pain for those that are being murdered ) true for anyone that does not belong to the same sect as themselves . This type of hatred can be observed in the country of Ireland ( IRA against the Protestant ) though most of that has subsided now . In Africa and other countries with large populations of Blacks one can observe the same behavior . To be fair of course a lot of the human population will show behavior to varying degrees of this type . That being said , the chance of the so called

    August 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Reply
    • mercenary76

      That being said , the chance of peace between the so called Palestinians and anyone is far from likely .

      August 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  13. JOE

    HERE'S THE REAL SOLUTION TO BRINGING ABOUT PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST..OF COURSE IT BEGINS WITH THE PALESTIANS GETTING A HOME LAND AND HAMAS AND OTHER GROUPS IN THE REGION ABANDONING VIOLENCE AND FINALLY RECOGNIZING ISRAEL'S RIGHT TO EXIST. BUT HOW DO YOU BRING ABOUT THIS PEACE? THE UNITED STATES UNDER VARIOUS PRESIDENTS AND ADMINISTRATIONS HAVE TRIED FOR DECADES TO NO AVAIL AND ISRAEL CONTINUES TO BE DEFIANT, EXPANDING THEIR SETTLEMENTS ON DISPUTED LANDS. LET'S FACE IT, IF YOU PUT YOUR HANDS IN A FLAME AND IT HURTS, YOUR SENSORY TELLS YOU THE NEXT TIME YOU DO THAT, YOU'D GET BURN AGAIN. SO THE PALESTINIANS AND THE MUSLIM WORLD HAVE TRIED VIOLENCE AGAINST ISRAEL FOR FIVE DECADES TO NO AVAIL. THE UNITED NATIONS HAS TRIED DIPLOMACY FOR 50 YEARS TO NO AVAIL. SO WHAT'S NEXT? PLEASE READ ON.

    REMEMBER APARTHEID IN SOUTH AFRICA? THE APARTHEID GOVERNMENT CONTINUED THEIR OPPRESSION AND BRUTALITY AGAINST THE BLACK SOUTH AFRICANS UNTIL THE UN IMPOSED ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST THEM AND INDUSTRIAL COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD WHO DID BUSINESS WITH THEM DECIDED TO WITHDRAW THEIR COMPANIES AND ALLEVIATE TRADE WITH THE OPPRESSIVE SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT. THE END RESULT? APARTHEID EVENTUALLY COLLAPSED. BUT THE QUESTION HERE IS WILL THE UN AND THE US IMPOSE SANCTIONS AGAINST ISRAEL? THE ANSWER IS NO AND EVEN IF THEY DID, THERE ARE MILLIONS OF JEWIS AMERICANS IN AMERICA WHO WOULD SEND AID AND KEEP THE OPPRESSIVE AND DEFIANT ISRAELI GOVERNMENT AFLOAT. SO WHAT'S THE SOLUTION? IT'S VERY SIMPLE! JUST READ ON.

    THERE ARE PRESENTLY MANY EUROPEAN AND WESTERN NATIONS WHO DO BUSINESS WITH THE ARAB WORLD AND RELY ON OIL IMPORT FROM THE ARAB WORLD TO KEEP THEIR ECONOMY WORKING. SO WHAT IF THE ARAB WORLD WAS TO WALK OUT OF OPEC TOMORROW AND ANNOUNCE AN OIL EMBARGO ON THE ENTIRE GLOBE UNTIL THE UNITED STATES AND THE UN GO IN TO ISRAEL BY FORCE, DIVIDE THE COUNTRY AND BRING LASTING PEACE? SO WILL IT WORK? YES IT WOULD WORK 100% GUARANTEE! FOLKES, VIOLENCE ONLY BREEDS VIOLENCE AND IT'S TIME THE ARAB WORLD CHANGE THEIR STRATEGY AND USE THE TOOLS THAT WOULD FINALLY BRING ABOUT PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST FOR THE PALESTINIANS AND THE ISRAELIS.

    FINALLY, WHY ARE WEALTHY COUNTRIES LIKE DUBAI AND THE UAE SPENDING BILLIONS OF DOLLARS YEARLY, BUILDING EXCLUSIVE RESORTS TO ENTERTAIN WEALTHY EUROPEANS AND WEALTHY CELEBRITIES AROUND THE GLOBE WHILE THEIR BROTHERS AND SISTERS ARE DYING EACH AND EVERY DAY OF POVERTY AND FAMINE IN PALESTINE, SUDAN, DAFUR, ETHIOPIA, SOMALIA AND ACROSS SO MANY ARAB COUNTRIES IN THE GLOBE. SO WHEN YOU COME TO MECCA EACH YEAR, WHAT DO YOU REALLY PREACH AND TALK ABOUT? ARAB AND MUSLIM PEOPLE, IT'S TIME TO WAKE UP AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK..

    August 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  14. JOE

    SO WHEN THE ARAB LEAGUE MEETS ANNUALLY, WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE REALLY TALK ABOUT? HOW TO LAUNCH MORE MISSLES INTO ISRAEL? FOLKES THAT STRATEGY IS INEFFECTIVE, COSTLY AND USELESS. YOU HAVE TO THINK LIKE THE WESTERN WORLD AND USE THE KINDS OF LANGUEAGE THAT THEY UNDERSTAND AND THE KINDS OF TOOLS THAT WOULD GET THEIR ATTENTION AND WAKE THEM UP. AND THAT STRATEGY, THAT TOOL IS NOT MILITARY AGGRESSION BUT RATHER AN ECONOMIC ASSAULT IN THE TERMS OF AN OIL EMBARGO. I GUARENTEE YOU THAT IT WOULD WORK 100%, GUARANTEE.

    August 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  15. viltor

    Let's face it, Israel is in the grip of the religious right. Mr. Abrams is so wrong it hurts to read what he says. The settlements are not for Israelis but for religious extremists, subsidized by a right wing government to the detriment of peace and to the Israeli population at large. The demonstrations in Israel about reduced social services and funding is a direct result of resources sucked up by the settlements. Israel has clearly made a choice: pandering to zealots over peace.

    August 18, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Reply
    • vasechek

      of course it is that kind of pandering that gave the land in wb to palestinian authority. it's that pandering that gave gaza to what turned out to be rocket-armed thug mob. religious right.... take a wild swipe at guessing how many israelis could be called religious right... israel is a democratic nation and their government represents their demographics fairly well. the religious right has its small niche, just like the religious left, whose religion is national suicide.

      August 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Reply
  16. Taxpayer

    In this conflict Israel has the preponderance of power and influence. Therefore they must show courage and leadership if they want to secure their long term security. Settlements is a good starting point and the Administration's insistence on a building moratorium is an attempt to apply pressure. During the Cold War I saw the need to bolster Israel, now what are my tax dollars doing? Our legitimacy, and indeed our contribution to the world, is based on our impartiality and justice. With regards to Israel when the word sees tanks bearing down on rock throwing teenagers, and we (the US) is on the side of the tanks...How many Kent States have we witnessed? If Israel wants to impress the world and live up to its promise it needs to be magnanimous. Giving the country's track record I'm dubious. Our security has been threatened as a result of our affiliation and our tax dollars are being wasted. Time for American voters to pull the plug. I understand the history and grievances and greed but until the more capable inter-locker in this dispute (Israel) shows the courage to secure its future, the US should focus elsewhere. This is very tiresome, expensive, and child like. If in fact the Israel lobby is exerting outsized influence on our politicians, then we need to vote those politicians out as well. Take care.

    August 18, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Reply
    • vasechek

      behind your affinity for dictionary words, your idea is lost. are you proposing israel utilize its strength and bring about an end to the conflict by force? ethnically cleansing its country of anyone not loyal to it? they've done everything they could on the other front, so that seems to be the one options they haven't tried, so that's what you're calling for, right?
      Israel is as much our ally today as it was during the cold war and the u.s. has as many problems and as many detractors as it had then in the world. the only difference is that they are less centralized and obvious, which doesn't make them any less dangerous. you mention paliwood propaganda and blame israel for it, rather than blaming the shameless propagandists who will not only risk the lives of their youths to make a new youtube clip, but literally sacrifice them for the purpose as surely as cutting their heads off at the altar. you don't have a problem with our tax dollars going in support of the fine folks who employ these tactics (the u.s. is the biggest donor to palestinians in the world by far), dollars that you can kiss good bye as soon as they are wired over, but you do have a problem with the support for israel, which we get back ten-fold in various ways israel co-operates and helps us out when called upon. why?

      August 18, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  17. notanapologis

    Mr. Abrams surely know there is an easy way to test his argument that "these units do not make a peace agreement harder" lets do this – lets expropriate land from and give it to the Arabs to build on. Certainly the Arab population is growing just as fast.

    Oh right....expropriation is only ok if its land from the Palestinians to the Jews....with a casual "its ok" "they don't mind" ...and this vulgar act is paid for by the US taxpayer.........suckers.....!!!!

    August 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Reply
    • vasechek

      you'd have to wait for israel to launch a war of genocide against the said arabs and lose it to stage your experiment and i mean an actual real war of actual real genocide, a la jordan et al aggressions on israel not the counterterrorism operations that your arab buddies call genocide because they have no idea what genocide is.

      try not to turn into a fossil while you wait...

      August 18, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  18. Adams

    Peace? What peace? There was never one and there will never be peace in Palestine until judgment day. Israel will never have peace because Israel is built on occupation, land theft, ethnic cleansing, and murders. You can't negotiate with criminals in "good faith".

    August 18, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  19. Joe

    The only expropriation was that moslems from Arabia stuck their tentacles all over the ME, decended into Africa and Europe and the Indian subcontinent. Look at all those places and see the destruction that this expropriation has caused. Afghanistan was once Budhist. Where are the Budhists now? Dead or exiled. Iran was once Zoroastrian. The only remenant of that religion is in India. Don't take the wrong side of this fight here. Anyone courageous enough to stand up to the Islamists and restore their heritage has got to be lauded.

    August 19, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Reply
  20. Cassandra Chu

    Elliot Abrams (author) must be an AIPAC supporter if not an Israeli at heart. The settlements are illegal under international law. The Israelis have continually violated human rights and standard decency. It's a terrible shame that American dollars support such awful people. Let's hope that awareness increases, American policy changes, and that the blatant anti-Arab anti-Islam propaganda currently spewed in the media ceases. Mr. Abrams, if you you love Israel so much so as to defend its illegal activities, why don't you just move there. We have enough bad journalists in this country.

    August 20, 2011 at 9:56 am | Reply
  21. Anabolika

    offensichtlich wie globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com Sie jedoch, um die Rechtschreibung auf mehreren, Ihre Beiträge zu testen müssen. Eine Reihe von ihnen sind voller Rechtschreibfehler Probleme und ich finde es sehr mühsam, die Realität dennoch sagen, ich werde auf jeden Fall wiederkommen.

    December 12, 2011 at 2:38 am | Reply
  22. kaufen Proviron

    Ich denke, andere Seite Eigentümer sollten globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com als Modell, sehr sauber und hervorragende Benutzerfreundlichkeit Stil und Design, geschweige denn den Inhalt. Sie sind ein Experte in diesem Thema!

    December 23, 2011 at 5:50 am | Reply
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