Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Al Jazeera Datelined Shiloh

Excerpts from

Analysis: How Obama won over the settlers

Once a vocal critic of Israeli settlements, Obama is expected to be silent on the issue during his visit to the region.

Gregg Carlstrom

Shilo, Occupied West Bank - It is hard to imagine US President Barack Obama getting a warm reception here, an Israeli settlement deep in the occupied West Bank, closer to Jordan than the "green line" delineating Israel's pre-1967 borders.

The US president was sharply critical of Israeli settlements in the first months after taking office. "It is time for these settlements to stop," he said in his so-called address to the Muslim world in Cairo in June 2009. Pressure from his administration forced Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to approve a partial settlement freeze later that year.

But four years later, Obama's first trip to Israel starting this Wednesday is being greeted largely with a shrug...Most settlers seemed to believe he has given up on trying to play a central role in brokering an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

"When it comes to Israel, he hasn't really served much of a function in the last four years," said David Joel, a resident of Shilo originally from Atlanta. "Everything's basically stalled. And in a way, it's a good thing."

Obama...largely stopped talking about the "peace process"...

..."Listen, the priorities are Iran first, Egypt second, because it's the most important Arab country, Syria, Turkey," said Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. "And if they have time? They'll talk about Palestinians."
...the new Israeli government sworn in on Monday appears to be one of the most pro-settlement in history. The new housing minister, Uri Ariel, said in a television interview this weekend that settlement construction would continue apace.  "The government will build in Judea and Samaria more or less as it has done previously," Ariel told Channel 10, using the biblical name for the occupied West Bank. "I see no reason to change it."

..."[The coalition] is packed with settlers, and has given the settlers portfolios that would expand the settler priorities," said Yossi Alpher, who was an adviser on the peace process to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. "[Jewish Home] could bring down the government if it goes too far on negotiations with the Palestinians."

All of this has settlers in the West Bank optimistic that the new government will allow them to keep building - and that Obama won't say much on the subject during his visit to Israel.

"The settlement enterprise has been going strong since the 1970s," said Aviela Deitch, a resident of Migron, a so-called "illegal outpost" north of Jerusalem which was demolished last year by the Israeli government because it was built without permission. "It's nothing that is going to be wiped off the map so quickly."

..."President Obama is a very intelligent person, and somewhere in the middle of his first term, he understood that his dream to achieve a final-status solution is just unattainable," said Dani Dayan, a former chairman of the Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing settlers. "I don't think that he's changed his mind."

...Ironically, then, the president who vowed to work tirelessly for a two-state solution might be remembered as the one who ended America's central role in pushing for negotiations.

"Every American president has walked the path to try to reach a comprehensive agreement," Dayan said. "But 20 years after [the Oslo Accords], whoever still says that the two-state solution is still viable, the burden of proof is on them."


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