Even if Israel were to freeze all construction in the West Bank settlements, this would not mean that peace would prevail in the Middle East the following day.
Those who think that Palestinians would take to the streets to express their joy over such a move are living on a different planet and have a short memory.
In the summer of 2005, when Israel destroyed all settlements in the Gaza Strip and evicted more than 8,000 Jews from their homes, not a single Palestinian welcomed the Israeli pullout.
Neither Fatah nor Hamas saw the Israeli withdrawal as a goodwill gesture that could pave the way for making peace between Israelis and Palestinians. On the contrary, many Palestinians interpreted the withdrawal as a sign of weakness, attributing to the wave of suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel.
Now the Palestinian Authority is saying that it won’t return to the negotiating table unless Israel halts all construction in the settlements. The Palestinian Authority is trying to create the impression that had it not been for the continued construction, peace would have come to the region a long time ago.
This argument, of course, is untrue -- otherwise, peace would have prevailed after Israel destroyed the settlements in the Gaza Strip.
And was there peace between Jews and Arabs before the settlements started popping up after 1967?
The Palestinian Authority’s entire approach toward the issue of settlements has been characterized by hypocrisy from the beginning.
If the issue of the settlements were so important, as the Palestinian leadership claims, why didn’t Yasser Arafat and his advisors sign the Oslo Accords more than fifteen years ago without demanding that Israel first halt construction of new homes in the settlements?
And why didn’t Arafat back then insist that Israel freeze all settlement construction as a precondition for talking to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon while the bulldozers were working?
Why, also, did Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, continue the peace talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni without demanding any freeze in settlement construction?
It is interesting that Abbas finally discovered the “threat” of the settlements only after US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started putting pressure on Israel about the continued construction. Only after Obama and Clinton made a big issue out of the settlements did Abbas come up with his new demand: that Israel freeze all settlement construction as a precondition for resuming the peace process.
Alarmed by the possibility that Obama and Clinton would appear to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians, Abbas joined the bandwagon by making it clear cut that he would never return to the negotiating table as long as the construction work continued in the settlements.
Abbas climbed a very high tree - one that he now finds very difficult to climb down from safely.
The settlements may be a problem, but they are in no way the major obstacle to peace. As past experience has shown, settlements can be destroyed or removed and settlers can be thrown out of their homes when and if the Israeli government deems it necessary. Various Israeli politicians have even suggested compensating the Palestinians with land from inside Israel proper in return for any land that Israel chooses to keep in the West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership has blown the issue of settlements out of proportion to deflect attention from its own problems. And the biggest problem is that Abbas knows very well that he cannot “deliver”: he has lost his credibility among many Palestinians.
Abbas cannot “deliver” not only because of lack of credibility, but also because he does not have control over half of the Palestinians living in this part of the world -- those in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas does not want to return to the negotiating table - - not because Jews are building new homes in the West Bank, but because he knows that he will not pass any test becacuse of his weakness, lack of credibility and inability to "deliver."