For Middle East Peace, Israel Is 'Obligated' To Stop Building Settlements

Steve Inskeep talks to Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Palestinian observer to the United Nations, about President Obama's upcoming visit to the Middle East and hopes for the peace process. Last week on Morning Edition, we heard from Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renée Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. The Middle East visit that President Obama begins tomorrow includes stops on both sides of the region's great divide. He will visit Israel. He will also cross over to Palestinian regions along the West Bank of the Jordan River. The president will arrive amid very low expectations for a peace settlement, the two-state solution with Palestinians recognizing Israel and Israel allowing the establishment of Palestine.

Last week on this program we spoke with Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States. Today, we hear from Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Palestine's observer at the United Nations. Ambassador Oren said that his boss, Prime Minister Netanyahu, is ready to negotiate with the Palestinian authority at any time and he thinks that if they sat down and negotiated with you that there could be a settlement within a year, but that your government is not ready to negotiate. Is he right?

AMBASSADOR RIYAD MANSOUR: No, he is not right. Because he is trying to say we should believe what the Israeli government say and forget about what they do. The action of the Israeli government is contrary to any effort for moving in the direction of peace.

INSKEEP: In what way?

MANSOUR: In the way of the taking our land, building settlements, expanding settlements. The population of the settlements today is close to 600,000 and it is increasing. Where are we going to establish our state?

INSKEEP: Is this what you are effectively saying to Israel? In order to have negotiations Israel must first stop settlement building.

MANSOUR: Yes. And this is not a condition, this is an obligation.

INSKEEP: The Israelis have said they want negotiations without preconditions, by which they mean, don't tell us to stop building settlements. But...

MANSOUR: That is not a condition, that's an obligation.

INSKEEP: OK. But Prime Minister Netanyahu has also said that if negotiations go forward he's willing to discuss all outstanding issues, that is it entirely possible that settlements might be torn down as they were when Israelis withdrew from Gaza. Why not challenge him and take him up on that offer and talk?

MANSOUR: Well, you say we should not be allowed to go against the global consensus which says that settlements are illegal. How can we negotiate with them having peace settlement when they are allowed to continue building settlements? What is the incentive for them to really reach a peace treaty for us if they continue with this illegal behavior?

INSKEEP: In the absence of negotiations can you just go on like this?

MANSOUR: It is not sustainable for us and it is not sustainable for them. They have to make up their mind. If they want Israel as a state in which the majority are Jews, then they have to separate from us and to allow the state of Palestine to take place on the areas that were occupied on the fourth of June of 1967.

If they continue with this illegal behavior of settlement activities, it means that they are moving in the direction of a one state solution. And if there is a one state solution, in a few years the Palestinians Arabs, the non-Jews in Mandated Palestine, or historic Palestine, will be the majority.

INSKEEP: We'll just remind people that you are referring to demographic projections that within not too many years, if Israel continues to occupy the West Bank, that the total number of people under Israeli control would - there would be more non-Jews than Jews.

MANSOUR: Yes.

INSKEEP: Is there a single thing that the president of the United States could do that would make it easier for Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate peace?

MANSOUR: We need a third party in order to articulate the collective will of humanity, which says that we know what the solution is. Israel has to withdraw from the areas they occupied in 1967, and a peace has to take place between the two sides. Jerusalem is the capital of two countries, a just solution to the refugees agreed upon by all parties. Stop all settlement activities. Negotiation on these basis should take place within six months, eight months.

If these positions are articulated by a third party that is a friend to both sides, such as the United States of America, the Europeans and others - the United Nations - then perhaps a meaningful process could start. And I sincerely hope that President Barack Obama is bringing with him such ideas to be suggested to both sides.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Riyad Mansour of Palestine. Thank you very much.

MANSOUR: You're very welcome.

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