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Stop Focusing on the Settlements to Achieve Peace in the Middle East

Graffiti on a section of Israel's separation barrier last month.
Graffiti on a section of Israel's separation barrier last month. (By Bernat Armangue -- Associated Press)

-- Any construction in the settlements would be within current building lines.

-- There would be no provision of economic incentives promoting settlement growth.

-- The unauthorized outposts built after March 2001 would be dismantled (a commitment that Israel, regrettably, has not yet fulfilled).

These understandings provided a working platform and, in my opinion, a proper balance to allow essential elements of stability and normality for Israelis living in settlements until their future would be determined in a permanent-status agreement. I adopted these understandings and followed them in close coordination with the Bush administration.

Moreover, during the run-up to Annapolis and in meetings there, I elaborated to the U.S. administration and the Palestinian leadership that Israel would continue to build in the settlements in accordance with the above criteria.

Let me be clear: Without those understandings, the Annapolis process would not have taken on any form. Therefore, the focus on settlement construction now is not useful.

The insistence now on a complete freeze on settlement construction -- impossible to completely enforce -- will not promote Palestinian efforts to enhance security measures; the institution building that is so crucial for the development of a Palestinian state; better movement and access to the Palestinians; nor an improved economy in the West Bank. Nor will it weaken the Hamas government in Gaza. It will not bring greater security to Israel, help improve Israel's relations with the Arab world, strengthen a coalition of moderate Arab states or shift the strategic balance in the Middle East.

Only a political process that demands courageous decisions from leaders on both sides will bring a solution to the issue of settlements.

To this day, I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them. My proposal included a solution to all outstanding issues: territorial compromise, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees.

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