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By Greg Slabodkin

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been dead for nearly three years now due to Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is resolved to stay. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has rightfully refused to enter into formal peace talks with Israel as long as illegal settlement activities continue in the Israeli-occupied territories.

Israel’s latest blow to the peace process occurred on Nov. 30. Just one day after the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to grant the Palestinians non-member observer state status, Netanyahu’s government authorized 3,000 new settler homes to be built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in blatant retaliation for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

For months, the Obama administration put enormous diplomatic pressure on Abbas to stop him from seeking a historic vote by the U.N. General Assembly on Palestine. That effort would have been better spent on Israel’s expansionist settlement policies, which are the major obstacle to the peace process. Half a million Jewish settlers and an occupying Israeli army permanently ruling over 2.7 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is not the answer for a peaceful, just and lasting solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Even the United States, one of only nine countries in the U.N. General Assembly who voted against accepting Palestine as a non-member observer state, sharply criticized Israel’s latest plans to build settlements.

The announcement of Israel’s latest plans underscores the fact that Netanyahu has no interest in creating a viable Palestinian state. In fact, his election in 2009 marked the end of what had been productive talks between Abbas and the previous Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

While Netanyahu did agree to a 10-month settlement “freeze” in 2010, it was so full of loopholes that Israel actually built more new West Bank housing that year than it had in 2008. With Israeli encroachment on their territory continuing to expand, who can blame the Palestinians for taking their destiny into their own hands?

Settlements, which are illegal under international law, are not only a threat to the territorial integrity of a future Palestinian state but also threaten the dream of a democratic Jewish state, which is incompatible with permanent Israeli occupation.

Rather than trying to penalize the Palestinian Authority for securing U.N. membership and international legitimacy, the Obama administration should be demanding that Israel halt all settlement construction on territory it seized in the 1967 war.

Greg Slabodkin of Kenmore is a former opposition researcher for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C.