President Barack Obama is set to host the ninth effort international effort in 31 years to establish peace between Israel and Palestine. On Wednesday, Obama will meet at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as the leaders of Egypt and Jordan. The leaders will discuss the potential borders of a Palestinian state, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and Israeli settlement growth. Many observers are emphasizing the role that Israeli settlements, such as those in the West Bank, will play in the peace talks. Here's what they have to say.

  • 'The Settlement Problem'  The Center for American Progress' Matt Duss explains, "Since 1967, against the advice of its own legal counsel, successive Israeli governments have used these civilians — some of whom are religious extremists, but the majority of whom have simply responded to incentives like government subsidized housing — essentially as human shields. In addition to pushing Israel’s borders farther and farther out, this has also created a highly motivated constituency against any future attempt to negotiate away the land, an artificially created political red line which subsequent Israeli governments can claim they cannot cross. Extraordinarily cynical and inhumane, yes, but also, unfortunately, effective. In a decades-long conflict where there’s blame to go around, the settlement problem is unique in that it’s a problem that is entirely of Israel’s own making. The burden of solving it, however, will be shared."
  • Save Israel by Denying It the Settlements  Gadi Taub warns in the New York Times, "If the settlers achieve their manifest goal — making Israel’s hold on the territories permanent — it will mean the de facto annexation of a huge Arab population and will force a decision about their status. In Israel proper, the Arab minority represents about a fifth of its 7.2 million citizens, and they have full legal equality. But between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are roughly equal numbers of Arabs and Jews today. Even if Israel annexed only the West Bank, it would more than double its Arab population. With birthrates in the territories far exceeding those of Arabs and Jews within Israel, Jews would soon enough be a minority. This would void the very idea of a Jewish democratic state."
  • Israeli Settlers Must Be Allowed to Stay  The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes writes, "When direct talks begin next week between Israelis and Palestinians, the fate of Jewish settlers in the West Bank – tens of thousands of them – will be a major issue in the negotiations. But the settlers themselves won’t be part of the discussion. Nor have American officials involved in the talks been willing to meet with them. ... Roughly 180,000 live in East Jerusalem or nearby, essentially in suburban communities.  In an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, they would presumably be included inside the boundaries of Israel. But settlements farther from Jerusalem, with 100,000 or more people, would not. And Palestinians would almost certainly demand they be removed." Barnes suggests the best solution to this is to ditch talk of a two-state solution and maintain a single state completely run by Israelis.
  • Peace Talks Will Only Embolden Israeli Settlements  Al Jazeera's Lamis Andoni is not optimistic. "While the talks may serve immediate American and Israeli interests they will do nothing for the cause of peace. In fact, the mere announcement that talks will resume has emboldened the Israeli prime minister to declare that settlement-building will continue and to demand Palestinian recognition of the Jewish character of the Israeli state as a precondition for any future agreement. So, at the same time that it has pressured the PA into dropping its preconditions for participating, the US has allowed Netanyahu to impose his on the whole process with impunity."