US Secretary of State - John Kerry - has again succeeded in muddying the waters with the following headline-grabbing sentence uttered by him after meeting PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem this week:
Let me emphasise that the position of the United States is that we consider now, and have always considered, the settlementsto be illegitimate.
Abbas would have been squirming at Kerry's use of the word "illegitimate" - rather than the word "illegal" - the term used by Abbas to deny Jews their claimed legal right to live in the West Bank.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - on the other hand - would have been shaking his head in disbelief at Kerry's claim that the United States has "always" considered the settlements to be illegitimate.
The word "illegitimate" has several meanings in most dictionaries including - "illegal, unlawful, forbidden by law" - or alternatively - "incorrect, contrary to logic, unsound".
Only Kerry himself can explain which meaning he intended to convey.
Jewish settlement in the West Bank is not illegal, unlawful or forbidden by law - having been legally sanctioned and expressly enshrined in international law under article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the United Nations Charter
The PLO in 1964 considered the Balfour Declaration, Mandate for Palestine and everything based on them to be "fraud". In 1968 the PLO deemed these documents to be "null and void".
Kerry in my view was not flagging America's opinion on these Jewish and PLO claims.
He was emphasising that Israel's settlements policy in the West Bank was incorrect, contrary to logic, unsound - notwithstanding any claimed legal entitlement to so act.
Israel obviously does not agree with Kerry's viewpoint - and continues to build and plan new houses in the West Bank in the belief these programs should not provide any justified excuse for Abbas to abandon the current negotiations.
A unilateral ten month building freeze by Israel in 2010-2011 brought no end to the conflict. Another similar freeze now could reasonably be expected to have very little impact - if any - in achieving a successful breakthrough.
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