Real Talk On Israeli Settlements

The U.S. Must Match Words With Deeds

Israeli police stand in front of Jewish settlers protesting the demolition of two dwellings in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beit El near Ramallah, July 2015. Emil Salman / Reuters

For the last four decades, every U.S. administration has opposed the construction of settlements in the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967. The Jimmy Carter administration termed the settlements “illegal.” President Ronald Reagan called for “the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze,” noting that “further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.”

President George H.W. Bush withheld loan guarantees that Israel needed to absorb Soviet Jewish immigrants until Israel agreed not to settle the immigrants in the occupied territories. And during the Clinton administration, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to deduct the amount of money Israel spent on settlement-related activity from U.S. assistance to Israel (apart from security aid). Most recently, the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including “natural growth.”

Yet Israel has continued to expand its settlements. Except for a ten-month period in 2009-10 when the country imposed a moratorium on new housing starts, it has largely ignored U.S. views. In response, the United States has offered periodic condemnation, but no actions to back up its words.

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss peace plans in the Oval office, November 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval office of the White House, November 2015. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

This has made for bad policy. Rhetoric unsupported by action is meaningless, and in this case it has debased the value of words as a tool of foreign policy. It has also led to hypocrisy; in 2011, for example, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that quoted almost verbatim the words the United States had itself used to express opposition to the settlements.

Not only has the United States taken few serious measures to dissuade Israeli settlement activity, but it effectively continues to subsidize it. U.S. law and regulations prohibit official U.S. aid to Israel

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