The new administration is talking tough to Bibi and the Israeli government but will it follow through with actions? As Nadezhda pointed out at Spencer’s place this morning, the US has had a private “understanding” with the Israelis for quite a while – backing the expanding occupation while claiming to support some form of peace initiative. Now there’s a lot of talk about Obama taking a new approach and changing the calculus – but we are past the point when rhetoric matters as Israeli settlements – and devastating attacks – make a two state solution increasingly impossible.
Today the Netanyahu government responded to Obama and Clinton’s recent demands for a halt to settlement expansion.
Bibi’s gang has said they will remove the “illegal outposts” – these are the the spots like the one shown in Max Blumenthal’s two part video from the West Bank – that are used to stake a claim for future expansion of the settlements.
But for the big settlements – and Jersusalem – Bibi has other ideas:
"We won’t establish new settlements, but there is no logic in not providing an answer to natural growth."
Netanyahu went on to stress that building in Jerusalem will continue.
"It’s not fair to issue a sweeping ban on settlement building, but we aspire to solve this issue through negotiations. Jerusalem, in any event, is not a settlement," Army Radio quoted the prime minister as saying.
On Thursday, Bibi was even clearer about his position on Jerusalem:
During a Jerusalem Day speech on Thursday, Netanyahu insisted that all of Jerusalem will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty…
"United Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided," he said.
Bibi’s cabinet has been equally clear. Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said:
“We will not follow American dictates. We will not halt construction in the settlements… We will not halt the expansion of settlements which is a result of natural growth. There are people living here, raising their children here. We need to build homes for families’ residence – it’s not this which has prevented peace."
Along with demands on West Bank settlements, Obama urged Netanyahu to permanently open the Gaza crossings. Bibi said his administration would answer during today’s cabinet meeting but no statement has been issued yet. Statement or not, the conditions in Gaza are more desperate by the day. In addition to blocking aid shipments, Israeli forces are setting fire to farmer’s fields, continue to shell Gazan fishing boats and the French NGO ACDN is preparing to release a detailed report on the presence of Depleted Uranium in Gazan soil from Operation Cast Lead.
Obama is due to travel to Egypt to speak to the Muslim world on June 4th, but his audience will be looking for more than words on Palestine.
Update: It looks like the Hope for Gaza Convoy bringing ambulances and wheelchairs from Europe is having trouble entering via Rafah.