The deadline on Israel’s “settlement freeze” has come and gone. On the West Bank, construction crews are gearing back up and the settler celebrations have begun. Abbas is mulling over his options with the Arab League. Once again, the peace process seems to be hanging by a thread.
For their part, many analysts are now using a “painted into a corner” metaphor to dissect the impact of the settlement freeze. Israeli analyst Nahum Barnea, for instance, recently opined that,

Three politicians – Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas – painted themselves into a corner and didn’t know how to get out of it.

And none other than King Abdullah of Jordan said this on the Daily Show last week:

We all got painted into a corner on the issue of settlements, unfortunately, and where we should have concentrated was on territories and the borders of a future Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution.

It’s bewildering to me that the issue of settlements can somehow considered to be a pesky distraction to the peace process. How can talks on “territories and borders” proceed with anything resembling good faith if one side settles these disputed areas with impunity and the “honest broker” to the proceedings refuses to rein it in? How can we be expected to take such a process seriously?
We already know that one of the main reasons for Oslo’s failure was the inability to deal with the settlement issue directly. As a result, Israel took that as an opportunity to significantly expand its settlement regime during the course of the “peace process.” This has brought us to where we are today: in the wake of Oslo more than 500,000 settlers now live throughout the West Bank in settlements and small cities, with special Israeli-only highways that effectively cut Palestinian territories into individual cantons separated by military checkpoints.
Have we learned nothing from past experience? Here’s lesson #1: the settlements are not a side issue. The Israel’s settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem are – and have always been – a central obstacle to the peace process. Until it is made to cease and desist, I can’t see how the latest round of talks can be considered anything but a charade.