'Israeli settlements are not an obstacle for peace'

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Oded Revivi on Conflict Zone

The Israeli government has approved thousands of new housing units in settlements in the West Bank despite a recent UN resolution calling for a halt to building. DW visited the settlement of Efrat to speak to its mayor.

Settlements are one of the most contentious issues between Israelis and Palestinians.

There are currently more than half-a-million Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

According to the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, more than 130 settlements have been officially established in the West Bank since 1967, along with more than 90 outposts, which were built without government approval.

Infografik Siedlungen im Westjordanland ENGLISCH

Palestinians argue settlements, along with Israeli-only roads, security barriers and military checkpoints, threaten the viability of a two-state solution.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told Conflict Zone in early 2016 that the "expansion of settlements on a daily basis kills the viability of a Palestinian state."

Most countries across the world view settlement building on Palestinian land as a violation of international law.

In December 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that said the establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had "no legal validity" and "constituted a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security." 

It called for an immediate halt to all settlement building.

Likelihood of a two-state solution diminishing

Yet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labeled the UN call "shameful" and just a month later his government announced a major settlement expansion in the West Bank.

They approved thousands of new housing units in settlements in the West Bank, such as Efrat, an Israeli settlement located about 15 kilometers south of Jerusalem between Bethlehem and Hebron. The settlement is home to about 8,500 people.

Its mayor, Oded Revivi, who is also Chief Foreign Envoy for The Yesha Council that represents settlers, told DW's Conflict Zone that settlements are not an obstacle to peace.

He blamed the Palestinians for blocking the peace process and said the likelihood of a two-state solution is diminishing. According to Revivi, Israel and Palestine are "moving farther and farther away from a two-state solution with every day that passes."

Revivi said it was time to look for a third option.

A history of the Middle East peace process

UN Security Council Resolution 242, 1967

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed on November 22, 1967, called for the exchange of land for peace. Since then, many of the attempts to establish peace in the region have referred to 242. The resolution was written in accordance with Chapter VI of the UN Charter, under which resolutions are recommendations, not orders.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Camp David Accords, 1978

A coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria, fought Israel in the Yom Kippur or October War in October 1973. The conflict eventually led to the secret peace talks that yielded two agreements after 12 days. This picture from March 26, 1979, shows Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, his US counterpart Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin after signing the accords in Washington.

A history of the Middle East peace process

The Madrid Conference, 1991

The US and the former Soviet Union came together to organize a conference in the Spanish capital city of Madrid. The discussions involved Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestinians — not from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) — who met with Israeli negotiators for the first time. While the conference achieved little, it did create the framework for later, more productive talks.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Oslo I Accord, 1993

The negotiations in Norway between Israel and the PLO, the first direct meeting between the two parties, resulted in the the Oslo I Accord. The agreement was signed in the US in September 1993. It demanded that Israeli troops withdraw from West Bank and Gaza and a self-governing, interim Palestinian authority be set up for a five-year transitional period. A second accord was signed in 1995.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Camp David Summit Meeting, 2000

US President Bill Clinton invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to the retreat in July 2000 to discuss borders, security, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. Despite the negotiations being more detailed than ever before, no agreement was concluded. The failure to reach a consensus at Camp David was followed by renewed Palestinian uprising, the Second Intifada.

A history of the Middle East peace process

The Arab Peace Initiative, 2002

The Camp David negotiations were followed first by meetings in Washington and then in Cairo and Taba, Egypt — all without results. Later the Arab League proposed the Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut in March 2002. The plan called on Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders so that a Palestinian state could be set up in the West Bank and Gaza. In return, Arab countries would agree to recognize Israel.

A history of the Middle East peace process

The Roadmap, 2003

The US, EU, Russia and the UN worked together as the Middle East Quartet to develop a road map to peace. While Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas accepted the text, his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon had more reservations with the wording. The timetable called for a final agreement on a two-state solution to be reached in 2005. Unfortunately, it was never implemented.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Annapolis, 2007

In 2007 US President George W. Bush hosted a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, to relaunch the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took part in talks with officials from the Quartet and over a dozen Arab states. It was agreed that further negotiations would be held with the goal of reaching a peace deal by the end of 2008.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Washington, 2010

In 2010, US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell convinced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to and implement a ten-month moratorium on settlements in disputed territories. Later, Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all issues. Negotiations began in Washington in September 2010, but within weeks there was a deadlock.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Cycle of escalation and ceasefire continues

A new round of violence broke out in and around Gaza late 2012. A ceasefire was reached between Israel and those in power in the Gaza Strip, which held until June 2014. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June 2014 resulted in renewed violence and eventually led to the Israeli military operation Protective Edge. It ended with a ceasefire on August 26, 2014.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Paris summit, 2017

Envoys from over 70 countries gathered in Paris, France, to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu slammed the discussions as "rigged" against his country. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives attended the summit. "A two-state solution is the only possible one," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at the opening of the event.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Deteriorating relations in 2017

Despite the year's optimistic opening, 2017 brought further stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A deadly summer attack on Israeli police at the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, sparked deadly clashes. Then US President Donald Trump's plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem prompted Palestinian leader Abbas to say "the measures ... undermine all peace efforts."

We don't destroy any Palestinian homes'

When confronted with an international backlash to Israel's settlement building and asked why he thinks so many countries backed the recent United Nations' resolution that condemned Israeli settlements as "illegal", Revivi said it is because these critics "don't see the reality."

"Some of them are biased and some of them are prejudiced. And some of them have changed their opinions after they've come here," he said. 

According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, Israel's Civil Administration demolished 20 homes and 13 other structures in Palestinian communities in the West Bank within a week and a half in August 2016, leaving 53 people, including 25 minors, homeless.

Confronted with these numbers and asked what kind of government destroys homes where children are living to throw them out onto the street, Revivi said: "That sounds heartbreaking, but…"

Tim Sebastian: "But what?"

Oded Revivi: "You have to understand. You have to ask yourself whether these houses were built on land which is owned by these private individuals, whether these houses were built with building permits or by using children as prisoners in these acts of illegal building."

Conflict Zone traveled to the settlement of Efrat in the West Bank to talk to Efrat's mayor, Oded Revivi

Tim Sebastian: "Families using children as prisoners? Children tend to live with their families, Mr. Revivi. Maybe they do in your settlement as well. And you call that being held prisoner?"

Oded Revivi: "Tim I have seen your shows, you are an intelligent person. Don't undermine the other side; they have used hospitals to launch missiles from."

Tim Sebastian: "We are not talking about that. We are talking about you bulldozing Palestinian homes where children are living and throwing children onto the street and I am asking: Don't you ever have a twinge of guilt about that sort of situation?  Doesn't it ever give you pause for thought?"

Oded Revivi "I didn't realize you were so dramatic."

Tim Sebastian: "The situation is dramatic, Mr. Revivi."

Will Israel get 'unconditional' backing from President Trump?

The Obama administration had pressured Israel to freeze the building of additional settlements, over fears they could derail hopes of a negotiated two-state solution.

But new US President Donald Trump has pledged strong support for Israel, and his aides are more sympathetic to the settlement plan.

Revivi, who attended the inauguration of Donald Trump, was asked whether he thought there would be a change in US settlement policy.

"There is going to be a meeting in the beginning of February between the new elected President and the Israeli Prime Minister," Revivi answered. "Understandings will be reached, agreements will be reached and then we'll be able to know what's going to be the policy of this new administration."

Since Trump's inauguration, the Israeli government made four announcements to construct more settlement homes in the West Bank, the latest just yesterday.