The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has praised former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmerts criticism of the Obama Administrations policy against Jews building homes and apartments in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. Mr. Olmert has argued that the Obama Administrations preoccupation with Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria is misconceived, encourages Palestinians not to fulfill their commitments to end terrorism against Israel and ignores understanding reached by previous Israeli and U.S. governments:
today, instead of a political process, the issue of settlement construction commands the agenda between the United States and Israel. This is a mistake that serves neither the process with the Palestinians nor relations between Israel and the Arab world. Moreover, it has the potential to greatly shake U.S.-Israeli relations
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 [criteria agreed upon by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former President George W. Bush, allowing for the growth of major Israeli towns and communities in Judea and Samaria]
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.
The focus on settlement construction, while ignoring the previous understandings, unjustly skews the focus from a true political process and from dealing with the real strategic issues confronting the region.
Settlement construction should be taken off the public agenda and moved to a discrete dialogue, as in the past. This would enhance our bilateral relations and allow us to deal with the essential issues: the political process; preventing Iran’s attempt to obtain nuclear weapons; eliminating Islamic extremist terrorism; and creating the necessary dialogue for normalizing relations between Israel and the Arab world.
The time to deal with such important matters is running out. We cannot waste what time we do have on non-priority issues (Ehud Olmert, How to Achieve a Lasting Peace: Stop Focusing on the Settlements, Washington Post, July 17, 2009).