Jewish town in Judea/Samaria
Jewish town in Judea/SamariaIsrael news photo (file)

Though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made it clear to the world this week that Israel will not cease construction in existing towns in Judea and Samaria, U.S. President Barack Obama and Israel’s incoming Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren indicate otherwise.

Obama, speaking to reporters at the White House during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi on Monday, said that Israel’s “continuation of settlements” is illegal.

Will settlement deal make the settlers happy? Oren: “I cannot speak in their name, but it will be good for Israel’s government and for Israel’s national interests.”

He said as follows: “I've also made very clear that both sides [Israel and the Palestinian Authority – ed.] are going to have to move in some politically difficult ways… On the Israeli side, that means a cessation of settlements. And there is a tendency to try to parse exactly what this means, but I think the parties on the ground understand that if you have a continuation of settlements that, in past agreements, have been categorized as illegal, that's going to be an impediment to progress.”

Obama's Mistake

However, as Dr. Aaron Lerner of Independent Media Review and Analysis notes, “There are no ‘past agreements’ that categorize the settlement activity as ‘illegal.’  The Roadmap wasn't an agreement, nor was the Annapolis ‘Joint Understanding on Negotiations.’ The only ‘agreements’ [between Israel and the PA] are the series of Oslo ‘agreements,’ and none of them categorize any Israeli settlement activity as ‘illegal.’”

Obama made the same mistake in his speech in Cairo two weeks ago, when he said, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

Lerner pointed out that officials in the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby or the Israeli government might want to inform Administration officials of the presidential error.

Oren: Working on Settlement Deal With the U.S.

Incoming Israeli Ambassador Dr. Michael Oren spoke with Voice of Israel Radio on Wednesday morning, and implied that the question of settlement construction would soon be solved – not necessarily in a manner that would make the residents happy.

Oren said that Israel insists on continued construction in Judea and Samaria for “the requirements of normal life, as Netanyahu has said. [What this means exactly] is still in dispute, but negotiations are underway and I think we’re getting closer to an agreement; we will soon meet again with special envoy George Mitchell.” 

Though he said that he does not want to “get into the details” of the indicated agreement on the topic, he was asked, “Will it make the settlers happy?” Oren’s response: “I cannot speak in their name, but I can say that the solution will be good for Israel’s government and for Israel’s national interests.”

Oren further said that the PA “has now come up with a new demand for resuming negotiations, and that is a total freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. They never made this demand on Barak, or Sharon, or Olmert, and they will have to give up this demand, and then we can resume talks in a matter of weeks.”

As with the settlements, Oren gave a mixed impression regarding Jerusalem, about which he said, “Our position is clear and known: It will remain our united capital, and the subject will be negotiated at one of the last stages of the talks.”

Other points made by Oren in the interview include:

  • “We will not return to the ’67 borders; I believe that even the US agrees. The ’67 borders are indefensible, and that was one of the reasons why the Six Day War broke out.  The Secretary of State at the time, Dean Rusk, who was not a great friend of Israel, said that one of the purposes of UN Resolution 242 [which stated that Israel must withdraw from “captured territories” and not from “the captured territories” – ed.] was to prevent a return to the indefensible ‘67 borders.”

  • “I see no danger of a major crisis in relations with the United States. American sympathy for a Jewish state in the Holy Land goes back hundreds of years; John Adams and Abraham Lincoln were essentially Zionists; and even Obama has said that he has an emotional bond with Israel…I see some moments of tension ahead, yes, but not a total breakdown or a head-on collision.”

  • "The US attitude towards Iran has advanced… Only a few months ago, Iran was  seen as an Israeli problem, while now Obama has said that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear power could kick off a regional nuclear arms race that would present a danger to the United States.”