Less than a week after the Annapolis conference, which was supposed to re-start peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the Israeli government has announced that it is adding more than 300 new homes to the settlement of Har Homa. You'd think Ehud Olmert might have waited longer than a week before making a move that seems specifically designed to damage the credibility of moderates like Mahmoud Abbas, strengthen rejectionist rivals like Hamas, and undercut Palestinian support for negotiations, but being a weak leader means having to throw the more-than-occasional bone to your own extremist, rejectionist factions. This is true for Olmert as it is for Abbas. And the beat goes on.

As Brian Ulrich notes, Har Homa is one of several Israeli settlements ringing East Jerusalem, the purpose of which is to consolidate Israeli control of the city, sever it from other Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and preclude its becoming the capital of the Palestinian state. That is, even as Olmert mouths support for a negotiated two-state solution, his government continues to take actions which are clearly intended to prejudice the outcome of those negotiations. Unfortunately, continued settlement expansion only ensures continued suffering, both for Palestinians who are brutalized by the military occupation which the settlements necessitate, and for Israeli settlers who will inevitably have to be uprooted as part of a final status agreement.

This would be a good moment for President Bush to step in and demonstrate that new spirit of engagement, as this announcement is a finger in his eye as much as it is in Abbas', but I'm not optimistic.

--Matthew Duss