In the Obama Administration, United States policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has placed the settlement issue front and center. In a review essay entitled “the Settlement Obsession” in the magazine Foreign Affairs, I argue that this approach is wrong.
Israeli attitudes toward the settlements reflect a clash within Zionism, between those who see “redemption of the Land” as its key goal and those who see establishment of a Jewish democratic state as the objective. In the essay, I explain these disagreements and their policy impact. But I do not believe that the settlements explain why there has been no peace accord, for after all there was no peace agreement between 1948 and 1967–when not one settlement existed–and Israeli prime ministers have several times in the last twenty years offered terms that included removal of most settlements so long as the major blocks remain in Israel’s hands. Other issues explain the failure to reach an agreement: Jerusalem, and the related issues of the so-called “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and acknowledgment of Israel as a Jewish state. Even if negotiations recommence, it is hard to see how they will succeed unless the PLO leadership is willing to accept Israel as a Jewish state and to tell their own people that Palestinian refugees and their descendants will have rights in Palestine–but none is Israel.