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Martin's Myths

10:08 AM, May 9, 2014 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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Indyk may be suggesting that this pace (slower than that of Ehud Barak, the last Labor prime minister) may be about to explode--8,000 units to be built in small settlements, not in the major blocks, and beyond the fence line, in territory that is not obviously going to remain part of Israel. I'd like to see the evidence. So far the numbers are evidence of efforts by Netanyahu to constrain construction in the small settlements and of a continuing obsession on this subject by Indyk, and by Obama. I would also like to see the evidence of "large scale land confiscation," to which Indyk referred in his background interview. Where exactly, and how much land, exactly? Until Indyk tells us, this can only be treated as a damaging and baseless charge.

It is worth repeating why the details matter. If Israel builds now inside settlement borders of major blocks it will certainly keep in any final peace agreement, it is not disadvantaging Palestinians today nor is it making a final peace  harder to achieve. In the years between Barak's peace offer at Camp David in 2000 and Olmert's offer in 2008, Israel built thousands of units--yet Olmert made an even more generous offer than Barak eight years later, offering the Palestinians an even larger percentage of West Bank land. He was able to do so because the construction had been confined mostly to those major blocks.

I believe Israeli construction in small settlements beyond the fence line, in territory that it is assumed will be Palestine some day, is foolish: a waste of resources at the very least. But construction in the major blocks is not, nor was it an obstacle to peace talks before the Obama administration foolishly made it so.

Finally, it's worth noting that Indyk also said last night that “the parties...do not feel the pressing need to make the gut-wrenching compromises necessary to achieve peace.” Those compromises and taking the risks they entail require a firm belief in fully reliable, dependable American support. Sharon, for example, believed he had it when he decided to leave Gaza. The parties do not believe they have it today, and who can be surprised? On the Israeli side, the Obama administration has repeatedly used leaks and backgrounders to disparage the prime minister. And Israelis (and Palestinians) who watched the president flip his position on Syria's chemical weapons—from an air strike one day, to a deal with the Russians the next, without consultation with anyone—can hardly credit the administration's solidity. Moreover, Israelis must recall what happened to the assurances Bush gave Israel in his famous April 14, 2004 letter to Sharon: the Obama administration has treated them as without force, as if this had been a private letter rather than a presidential commitment soon approved by both houses of Congress in huge majorities. Similarly, the administration said the agreement Bush and Sharon reached on settlements simply did not exist, when in fact that agreement had been referred to publicly on a dozen occasions. This is no way to persuade Israeli leaders to take "gut wrenching" risks because they are sure they can rely on American support.

But of all that Indyk had nothing whatsoever to say, choosing instead to tell a tale of brilliant American diplomacy and of Israeli and Palestinian failures. As was famously said in the neighborhood a long time ago (Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, Luke 4:23), "Physician, heal thyself."

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