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Rev Up the Bulldozers

By Michael Freund
9/16/2010, 12:00 AM

For the first time in nearly two years, Israel and the Palestinian Authority resumed direct negotiations in Washington this week amid a great deal of fanfare.

In a clear sign of the occasion's significance, President Barack Obama personally set aside several hours in between his frequent vacations to host the restart of the talks, while former British Prime Minister Tony Blair abandoned the lucrative lecture circuit for a few days in order to attend the ceremony.

Can this possibly be just business as usual?

With all the clinking of the champagne glasses at the festive diplomatic dinner, and the inevitable poses for the political paparazzi, some might be tempted to get swept away by all the hope and change that seems to be in the air. 

After all, the diplomatic process has been stalled for some 20 months now, and the fact that Israel and the Palestinian leadership are again looking at each other across a table clearly marks an advance in the right direction.

Or does it?

Before you get too excited, consider the following. Even before the talks began, Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was already at work blaming Israel for their imminent failure.

In a speech in Ramallah on Sunday, Abbas said, "I clearly state today that we notified the Americans and international officials that Israel will bear sole and full responsibility for the collapse of negotiations should settlement building continue" (Ynet, August 30).

Like a bride placing a call to her divorce lawyer as she saunters down the aisle, Abbas is laying the groundwork for a letdown.

Before setting foot in the American capital, he was effectively trying to compel Israel to extend the 10-month freeze on construction in the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria that is due to expire on September 26. By asserting a linkage between settlement building and the continuation of the talks, Abbas is seeking to impose unilateral preconditions on the nature and conduct of the negotiations.

This, of course, is completely unacceptable and should be met with a straightforward, yet firm Israeli response.
In other words, it is time for the Jewish state to rev up the bulldozers. Let's start building again throughout the length and breadth of Judea and Samaria. This is the only way to ensure that the Palestinians will at last understand that they cannot decree the outcome.

Sure, you might be thinking, but then won't Israel be giving Abbas precisely the excuse he wants to slam his fist on the table and storm away from the talks?

But the question itself contains the answer.

For if Abbas is already looking for a pretext to walk out, then what is the point of negotiating with him in the first place? If he isn't serious about talking, then why on earth should we be?

Like it or not, if the diplomatic process is to have any chance at all of succeeding, then Israel cannot, and must not, allow the Palestinians to think that they can dictate what Israeli policy should be, whether via threats, pressure or intimidation.

The last thing Israel, or the process itself, can afford is for the Jewish state to exude a further sense of weakness or frailty. Time and again, since the start of the Oslo track in 1993, Israeli concessions and capitulation have only invited a still more aggressive Palestinian stance.

It is time to break the cycle of submission, and underline our right to each and every part of this precious land.
For far too long, the left and the media have fed us with the mantra that "Settlements are the obstacle to peace". Despite the rhetoric, they never have been. Not once.

The true obstacle to peace remains what it has always been: the Palestinian refusal to accept a permanent and sovereign Jewish presence in the land of Israel. Palestinian leaders continue to harbor fantasies of annihilation, which is why they have been loath to accept even the most generous of Israeli offers over the years.

Indeed, it wasn't a lack of Israeli generosity that torpedoed peace, but an excess of Palestinian audacity.
And that is one reason why settlements are so important: they disabuse the Palestinians of their deeply-held notion that Israel is a passing or temporary phenomenon.

Think about it: every red-bricked Israeli roof that is erected on the outskirts of Ramallah, every Hebrew hothouse that goes up south of Hebron, is a tangible reminder to Mr. Abbas and his colleagues that the Jewish people are here to stay.

If each time they look out their windows, the Palestinian leadership is faced with a steadily–growing Jewish horizon, they will be forced to accept this basic and fundamental truth. Then, and only then, will peace possibly have a chance of breaking out.

Personally, I believe Israel should expand Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria because of our Divinely-given right to these areas. And I do not want Israel to give up control over any part of our ancestral patrimony.
But the bottom line is that wherever you stand on the question of territory - right or left - settlements serve to advance Israel's values and interests.

So let's get those engines going and start pouring some more concrete. Both because it is good for Israel and, ironically enough, also for peace.