Settlements are an issue among many contentious issues to be negotiated, and surely is not the only issue which has prevented an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Settlements, along with final borders, security arrangements, Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, foreign relations “and other issues of common interest” have always been considered “final status” issues – matters to be negotiated as part of a final peace Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. While settlements are an issue of great concern to Palestinians, Israelis are equally concerned about the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for refugees and border issues.
Serious, bilateral negotiation have been conducted without any “preconditions” regarding settlements. In 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month “settlement freeze” in order to induce the Palestinians to resume negotiations. The Palestinians refused to engage for much of that period, and only agree to a symbolic bilateral meeting at the 10th month.
While the United States government is critical of settlements, on his March 2013 trip to the region, President Obama reiterated that that the issue of settlements can only be resolved in the context of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As he said in his press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas:
The core issue right now is, how do we get sovereignty for the Palestinian people, and how do we assure security for the Israeli people? And that’s the essence of this negotiation. And that’s not to say settlements are not important. It is to say that if we solve those two problems, the settlement problem will be solved. So I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. I want to make sure that we are getting to the core issues and the substance, understanding that both sides should be doing what they can to build confidence, to rebuild a sense of trust. And that’s where, hopefully, the U.S. government can be helpful.”
Moreover, Israel has demonstrated that it has been willing to dismantle and resettle Israeli communities as part of a final peace agreement. The thriving Israeli town of Yamit in the Sinai dessert was dismantled in 1982 as part of the Israel-Egypt peace agreement. At the negotiating table, at Camp David and at Taba, successive Israeli leaders have presented peace proposals which include the dismantlement of numerous settlements, particular those in the outlying areas. Successive Israeli governments have made clear that they would take similar steps regarding settlements in the context of mutually-negotiated agreement with the Palestinians.