Merkel's call for freeze on Jewish settlements
GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel's call for Israel to freeze its settlements in Palestinian territory is a powerful indication of the pressure which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under. It is just as well that Netanyahu be under such pressure because of the particular reason that he has so far given no indication of his willingness to go for accommodation with the Palestinians. And the pressure is not just Ms. Merkel's. The Obama administration too has been trying to convince Israel's leader that progress in the Middle East is eventually dependent on whether or not his government is ready and willing to put an end to its settlements in the region. Unfortunately, and in defiance of objective reality, Mr. Netanyahu has chosen to look away from the issue.
The difficulty with the Middle East today is not just that there was little progress toward peace in the eight years of the Bush administration in Washington. It is also rooted in the fact that Israeli voters, at the last election, gave Netanyahu and his rightwing party an edge over Tzipi Livni's Kadima party and so propelled them into office on the strength of a coalition government. Ms. Livni's argument that Israel needed to talk to the Palestinians through clearing all the roadblocks before such a process could begin did not work. Now that Netanyahu, known for his hawkishness, is in power, it is hard to see where the peace process goes from here. In his journey to the United States and Europe, he has been speaking vaguely of meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians. There has been no real commitment coming from his government, although he has been hinting at preventing the growth of settlements in future. That does not, however, obviate the reality of what damage the existing on-going settlements are doing to the region.
Against such a background, Chancellor Merkel's unambiguous assertion of German policy on Palestine is deserving of appreciation. More than any other western leader, she has made it clear to the Israelis that they ought not to expect any forward movement toward peace in the Middle East unless they step back on the settlements issue. Israel and its friends would do well to heed the warning.