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Israel

'Israel needs peace, not settlements'

Israel is pushing the building of new settlements in and around Jerusalem - despite growing international criticism. Peace activist Uri Avnery says that the current government does not in fact want a two-state solution.

Deutsche Welle: Israel has announced further settlements in reaction to the Palestinians being granted observer status by the United Nations. So is the renewed settlement-building really Israel's answer to the UN's decision?

Uri Avnery: No, this has very little to do with it. This government wants to build more and more settlements - for ideological reasons, but also because of domestic policy issues. The biggest threat to the Netanyahu government comes from the political right, not the left. And that's why he's afraid to lose voters to the right-wing party "The Jewish Home," led by the young new leader Naftali Bennet. Netanyahu has to show that he is no less extreme than this new political figure. The UN decision is just an excuse.

So Prime Minister Netanyahu is hunting for votes for the January 2013 elections?

Yes, definitely. The announcement has nothing to do with whether the houses will actually be built or not. That depends on how much pressure there will be from the US and Europe. But announcing it doesn't cost anything, and it causes a great big fuss around the world.

The United Nations has condemned the settlements quite harshly, with criticism also coming from Germany. The US, though, has been rather timid. Does any of this impress the Israeli government?

What the Europeans are doing certainly won't impress Netanyahu. But he won't be able to ignore real pressure from the US. Yet it doesn't look like Washington will do more than say a couple of words to Israel. They've said that the announcement to build more settlements is not good for peace. But President Barack Obama is busy with other things than the Mideast. It doesn't look like he is going to change his Middle East policy in his second term. There won't be anything beyond words, and in reality, he won't do anything to help the Palestinians get their own state.

Barack Obama with Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu

Avnery thinks Obama only pays lip servive to criticizing Netanyahu

Israel keeps stressing that it supports a two-state solution. How does that fit with the plans to build new settlements?

The Americans and the Europeans ignore this fact because they don't want to deal with Israel. In the case of the US it's because of the massive influence of the pro-Israel lobby. But that lobby does not help the real interests of Israel, only the interests of the right-wing. For every sensible person, it has to be clear that Israel needs peace and not more settlements. Peace with the Palestinians and also with the rest of the Arab world. Whoever doesn't see this doesn't care about the actual interests of Israel, but seeks to annex the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If someone says they want Israel to encompass the entire area from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, then any further discussion is pointless. If that's what you want, of course a two-state solution is not what you're interested in.

Does that mean that the Israeli government is not interested in a two-state solution?

You can basically forget about the words two-state solution. This current government doesn't want a two-state solution. Because there's one thing that's always being overlooked: We have two Arab parties today, Fatah which wants peace with Israel, and Hamas which doesn't. The Israeli government undermines Fatah and the Palestinian authorities at every opportunity. And that way it indirectly strengthens Hamas.

Does the Israeli government see itself as being under international pressure?

No, it does not. The government has long gotten used to other countries criticiing with harsh words. But if that's not followed by any action, then Israel doesn't feel any pressure at all. What pressure does the European Union put on Israel? None at all.

What do you think should be done?

The political rhetoric has to be followed up by political acts. Because the US never does anything after criticizing Israel, and the Israeli right has gotten ever stronger. The Israeli peace faction is getting weakened by that. In the upcoming election, we'll see how weak those who want peace have become.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist, author and peace activist. For three terms he was a member of parliament in the Knesset.

DW.DE