Leverage U.S. military aid to halt Israeli settlements
The settlement of Ariel, which sits deep inside the Palestinian Territory of the West Bank, voted overwhelmingly for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party in the recent elections. The reasons are straightforward: Likud has vowed to protect and expand settlements, and its platform denies the existence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
These facts run contrary to stated U.S. policy toward the peace process, but the new government of Israel and the residents of Ariel and other settlements who voted for Likud do not seem to care.
Every American administration since Jimmy Carter's has taken a position against settlements in the West Bank. They are not only illegal under international law, but they also jeopardize Israel's long-term security, stability, and prospects for peace with its neighbors.
Settlements and the security structures that surround them debilitate the livelihoods of Palestinians, cut them off from each other, and make a viable Palestinian state unachievable. From 1994 to 2004, after the start of the Oslo peace process, which was based on the principle of two states, the settler population grew a striking 89 percent.
On a recent trip to the region, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized settlement construction and the demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. Yet expansion plans continue to be developed by the Israeli Civil Administration.
Clearly, words have yet to alter the course of Israeli policies, and if the past is prologue, a Netanyahu-led government will not be helpful in ending construction. In fact, the last time Netanyahu was prime minister, settlement construction increased to its highest levels in 20 years.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are running out of time to save a two-state solution. Waiting for "pro-peace" governments to be elected on both sides is like waiting for the planets to align. With the right wing on the rise in Israel and a fragmented Palestinian polity, the ideal configuration seems light-years away. Israel is on a crash course with an irreversible entanglement in Palestinian territory.
It's time for a new approach that will make it clear to the Israeli government that there must be a permanent freeze on settlement construction and expansion.
In 2007, the United States and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding guaranteeing Israel $30 billion in military assistance over the next decade. This assistance, however, has never been conditioned or leveraged to ensure compliance with U.S. policy on settlements.
By conditioning assistance on compliance with a complete and permanent freeze on settlement construction, the United States can send a clear message to Israel.
This message could also help Netanyahu. Since the domestic constituency that put him into power is sympathetic to settlement expansion, limitations on U.S. assistance can give Netanyahu the ability to argue that his hands are tied and that a settlement freeze is necessary.
If we are shipping our tax dollars overseas in these tough economic times, the least we should do is make sure they are being used to further U.S. objectives. If the United States truly is a friend to Israel, it should show some tough love, and conditioning aid is the right way to start.