On Israel's Obligations

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Tamara Cofman Wittes writes in regarding my last post on narcissistic settlers:

You wrote: "Everyone knows that most settlements would actually become part of Israel in a final peace deal. So these settlements should probably be allowed natural growth. But only if the settlements beyond the security barrier, the settlements in the heart of the Arab West Bank that everyone and his rabbi knows will soon dissapear, are frozen in place, and only if Israel acknowledges that the security fence marks the de facto border of the state of Palestine."

The problem with this view is that it contradicts Israel's obligations to negotiate, not unilaterally determine - especially not through the route of the fence - its final border with the Palestinians. This was specifically laid out in the Bush-Sharon letters of 2004.

Sharon's letter to Bush clearly stated Israel's obligation to "limitations on the growth of settlements" and Israel's commitment that "The fence is a security rather than political barrier, temporary rather than permanent, and therefore will not prejudice any final status issues including final borders."

For his part, President Bush made clear that "As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties ... In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities. "

In other words, the clear bargain between the US and Israel since the Gaza withdrawal and the security fence were settled upon was that the US would endorse the idea of territorial adjustments to the 1967 line, IF Israel would restrict settlement growth and not treat the fence as a de facto border. The issue Obama is raising with Netanyahu is that he is violating these agreements.

There are two options for Israel today in order to keep its commitments to the United States: 1) it could freeze growth in all settlements regardless of their likely disposition under final status; or 2) it could negotiate a final border with the Palestinians now (to be implemented later when all other issues are resolved), enabling the settlement issue to be greatly dissipated by allowing free construction in the settlements that will be incorporated into Israel and beginning the slow and expensive process of encouraging (and finally compelling) Israeli citizens living in other settlements to move into Israeli territory.

For a variety of reasons, I believe that the latter is not a good option either for Israel or for the PA. That leaves us back with a total settlement freeze, as stated by Secretary Clinton.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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