Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bill Clinton, Russia And The Settlements

The current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are once again slouching towards failure and much of the blame, at least on the part of the Palestinians, is falling on Israel's failure to maintain a freeze on settlement building within the West Bank. The “settlements”, in case you haven't been keeping up on the details of the negotiations, are Israeli-only housing projects built on the land the Palestinians hope will one day become their homeland; settlement blocks are ringed by security zones and linked by private roads, causing a map of the West Bank to bear a striking resemblance to a piece of Swiss cheese. The Israeli government meanwhile insists the settlements aren't a real issue but merely an excuse used by the Palestinians to sink the latest round of talks.

Now Bill Clinton has weighed in on the issue, laying the blame for the fragile state of the peace talks not only on the settlement issue, but on Israel's Russian-born immigrant population in particular. Clinton describes the Russian Jews who emigrated to Israel in huge numbers following the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 as the hardest of the hardline segments in Israel. Russian Jews moved to the settlement blocks in large numbers and now that they are there, they don't want to leave, providing a major obstacle to a negotiated Israel-Palestine settlement in the process.

It's certainly an interesting theory on Clinton's part, and it points to a demographic reality that isn't discussed much outside of Israel. It is estimated that one in six Israelis today were born in the former Soviet Union; in Israel's fractious political system, there are several parties that cater especially to Russian-speaking Israelis. And if Israel's current Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, originally from the former Soviet Republic of Moldova is any indication, Clinton may be onto something as far as the political attitudes of Russian-born Jews; Lieberman has a long history of supporting aggressive policies towards the Palestinians, including in the past endorsing the idea of mass deportations of Palestinians from the West Bank.
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