Cybersecurity of the Power Grid: A growing challenge

A cyber attack on the electricity grid happened in Ukraine – could it happen here too? Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
A cyber attack on the electricity grid happened in Ukraine – could it happen here too? Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Manimaran Govindarasu, Iowa State University and Adam Hahn, Washington State University

Called the “largest interconnected machine,” the U.S. electricity grid is a complex digital and physical system crucial to life and commerce in this country. Today, it is made up of more than 7,000 power plants, 55,000 substations, 160,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and millions of miles of low-voltage distribution lines. This web of generators, substations and power lines is organized into three major interconnections, operated by 66 balancing authorities and 3,000 different utilities. That’s a lot of power, and many possible vulnerabilities.

The grid has been vulnerable physically for decades. Today, we are just beginning to understand the seriousness of an emerging threat to the grid’s cybersecurity. As the grid has become more dependent on computers and data-sharing, it has become more responsive to changes in power demand and better at integrating new sources of energy. But its computerized control could be abused by attackers who get into the systems.

Until 2015, the threat was hypothetical. But now we know cyberattacks can penetrate electricity grid control networks, shutting down power to large numbers of people. It happened in Ukraine in 2015 and again in 2016, and it could happen here in the U.S., too.

As researchers of grid security, we know the grid has long been designed to withstand random problems, such as equipment failures and trees falling on lines, as well as naturally occurring extreme events including storms and hurricanes. But as a new document from the National Institute of Standards and Technology suggests, we are just beginning to determine how best to protect it against cyberattacks.

Understanding the Ukraine attacks

On Dec. 23, 2015, a cyberattack penetrated electricity distribution control centers in Ukraine using software vulnerabilities, stolen credentials and sophisticated malware. The attackers were able to open dozens of circuit breakers and shut off power to more than 200,000 customers for several hours.

A year later, the country’s electricity transmission facilities were attacked. That attack also cut off electricity service, though to a much smaller geographic area, and for only about an hour. In both cases, it is widely reported that hackers aligned with the Russian government were responsible.

How can we prevent this sort of attack in the U.S.?

Protecting the American electricity grid from cyberattacks is challenging not just because it is made up of so many physical and computerized elements connecting nearly every building in the country. It’s difficult because the grid has to continue to operate in real time, making adjustments to ensure the right amount of electricity gets where it needs to go at every moment.

And it’s especially hard because the electricity industry is used to a slower pace of technological advance: While computer technologies like smartphones and servers are updated every two to three years, grid infrastructure typically must operate for over a decade.

Increasingly computerized: electricity transmission lines.
Powerlines via shutterstock.com

Over time, though, older traditional electricity meters have given way to digital smart meters. Similarly, power substations that are crucial for converting electricity from high-voltage transmission lines to lower voltage for household use, are increasingly controlled via internet-enabled networks and software.

Security standards can help ensure utility companies keep their protection strong. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which oversees the grid in the U.S. and Canada, has rules, known as Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) compliance, for how electric companies must protect the power grid both physically and electronically. This includes monitoring the grid for attacks, as well as requiring safeguards such as multi-factor user authentication to keep unauthorized intruders from accessing control networks.

NERC also hosts regular tabletop simulation exercises, where electricity companies can practice defending against major attacks. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology has its own recommendations, though they are not mandatory for utilities. A draft version of a new set of guidelines was just released, adding both urgency and detail for utility companies.

These standards, guidelines and exercises have significantly improved the security of the larger elements of the power system, such as power plants and high-voltage transmission networks. But they have done little to protect the low-voltage distribution networks that supply power directly to our homes and workplaces. Attacks on these low-voltage parts of the overall system cover less territory than intrusions at higher levels, but they can still cause large-scale power outages, like in Ukraine in 2015.

Defending the edges of distribution system is much more complicated than protecting its center. Not only are there many more physical locations to safeguard, but there are also many more companies involved in operating them. Municipal governments and utility cooperatives, for example, are significant distributors of electricity, and yet have limited security requirements. In addition, they may not have the money or expertise to protect their systems against cyberattacks.

Joining forces

The grid depends on a number of key control systems and algorithms, each of which presents its own unique vulnerabilities. The growing scale of this problem requires techniques to manage and reduce the number of vulnerable points the grid has.

Research into grid security is moving away from investigating ways to better handle equipment failures and natural disasters, and toward creating a well-defended power grid for the future. One approach could be to add more redundancy – additional equipment that can fill in when an attack takes out a power plant or a transmission line. That is very expensive, though.

The other approach involves systematically analyzing the risks inherent in critical systems and methodically defending against each of them. Key elements of this approach involve developing techniques that can prevent attacks, detect and respond to them when they happen, and allow us to investigate what happened after an attack has ended. That will help us to improve protection for the future.

This approach will require the industry to ensure each new device it connects to the grid is protected, no matter how small or how big. We’ll also have to develop new systems that can detect anomalous grid communications and create more secure network architectures for critical grid control systems.

In addition, regulators will need to keep updating the rules governing the industry to raise minimum security standards over time. Schools and universities will need to teach people to be not only electricity experts but cybersecurity defenders. Our ability to flip a switch and turn on the lights depends on it.

The Conversation

Manimaran Govindarasu, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Iowa State University and Adam Hahn, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Washington State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Red state rural America is acting on climate change – without calling it #climatechange

One primary concern in rural areas: higher temperatures put strain on water and energy sources. AP Photo/Robert Ray
One primary concern in rural areas: higher temperatures put strain on water and energy sources. AP Photo/Robert Ray

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, University of North Dakota

President Donald Trump has the environmental community understandably concerned. He and members of his Cabinet have questioned the established science of climate change, and his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA many times and regularly sided with the fossil fuel industry.

Even if the Trump administration withdraws from all international climate negotiations and reduces the EPA to bare bones, the effects of climate change are happening and will continue to build.

In response to real threats and public demand, cities across the United States and around the world are taking action to address climate change. We might think this is happening only in large, coastal cities that are threatened by sea-level rise or hurricanes, like Amsterdam or New York.

Research shows, however, that even in the fly-over red states of the U.S. Great Plains, local leaders in small- to medium-size communities are already grappling with the issue. Although their actions are not always couched in terms of addressing climate change, their strategies can provide insights into how to make progress on climate policy under a Trump administration.

‘Deliberate framing’

My colleagues and I did a survey of over 200 local governments in 11 states of the Great Plains region to learn about steps they’re taking to mitigate the effects of climate change and to adapt to them. We found local officials in red states responsible for public health, soil conservation, parks and natural resources management, as well as county commissioners and mayors, are concerned about climate change, and many feel a responsibility to take action in the absence of national policy.

In terms of framing, using wind energy is a way to improve local air quality and save money on energy, while also reducing emissions from fossil fuels.
paytonc/flickr, CC BY-SA

But because it is such a complex and polarizing topic, they often face public uncertainty or outrage toward the issue. So while these local officials have been addressing climate change in their communities over the past decade, many of these policy activities are specifically not framed that way. As one respondent to our survey said:

“It is my personal and professional opinion that the conservation community is on track with addressing the issue of climate change but is way off track in assigning a cause. The public understands the value of clean water and clean air. If the need to improve our water quality and air quality was emphasized, most would agree. Who is going to say dirty water and dirty air is not a problem? By making the argument ‘climate change and humans are the cause’ significant energy is wasted trying to prove this. It is also something the public has a hard time sinking their teeth into.”

In order to address the vulnerabilities facing their communities, many local officials are reframing climate change to fit within existing priorities and budget items. In a survey of mayors, we asked: “In your city’s policy and planning activities (for energy, conservation, natural resources management, land use, or emergency planning, etc.) how is climate change framed?” The following quotes give a sense of their strategies.

“In terms of economic benefit & resource protection. This framing was deliberate to garner support from residents who did not agree with climate change.”

“We frame the initiative as: energy savings (=$ savings), as smart growth/good planning, and as common sense natural resource management. Climate change is only explicitly referenced in our Climate Protection Plan adopted in 2009. Most initiatives fall under the “sustainability” umbrella term.“

“We mask it with sustainability, we call it P3 (People, Planet, Prosperity)”

“The initial interest in climate change came about as a result of concern about the potential for poor air quality affecting economic development in the City. Air quality and climate change were framed as being extremely related issues.”

“Climate change is framed as one of several benefits of conservation measures. Other benefits of conservation, recycling, walking, etc. include it’s ‘good for the earth’ (regardless of climate change), healthful, economical, etc.”

The results show that energy, economic benefits, common sense and sustainability are frames that are providing opportunities for local leaders to address climate change without getting stuck in the political quagmire. This strategy is being used across the Great Plains states, which include some of the most climate-skeptical areas of the country.

Local needs and values

Every region of the U.S. will need to address practical questions of how states and local communities can reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Under the Trump administration, it is likely any progress on U.S. climate policy will continue at these subnational levels. That’s why a variety of experts argue that we should encourage the types of pragmatic strategies now being employed by local leaders in red states.

In the Great Plains in particular, local officials are facing severe impacts from higher temperatures, which will place greater demands on water and energy.

Capturing methane gases from landfill can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be a local source of fuel for power.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, CC BY-NC

In our research we found local leaders focus on regional and local issues such as drought, energy and flooding. These are problems that are tied to climate change, but are already a priority on the local level. And the sought-for improvements, such as energy savings, health benefit and flood management, fit well with local needs and values.

For example, Fargo, North Dakota mitigates some of its greenhouse gas emissions and created a new source of city revenue by capturing the methane from its landfill facility and selling that gas to the electricity company. The city trash is now providing renewable energy for local residents and an industrial facility.

Perhaps the question facing us is: Should we reframe climate change and other environmental problems to fit the Trump administration’s priorities with a strong focus on practical solution ideas? For example, Trump has stated that infrastructure projects will be a high priority. That could easily translate into fixing the drinking water crisis experienced by Flint, Michigan and many other cities where it is likely to happen; Trump has also highlighted mass transit, which could help reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.

With an administration eager to expand fossil fuel development and consumption, the outlook for federal action on reducing climate-altering greenhouse gases is dire. Given that, reframing climate change to address cobenefit issues seems a logical strategy, and we can look for local government leaders in red states to show the way.

The Conversation

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, Professor of Environmental Science & Policy, University of North Dakota

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Where is ‘rural America,’ and what does it look like?

The view from Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. Cropped from nicholas_t/flickr, CC BY
The view from Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. Cropped from nicholas_t/flickr, CC BY

Kenneth Johnson, University of New Hampshire

Rural people and issues generally receive little attention from the urban-centric media and policy elites. Yet, rural America makes unique contributions to the nation’s character and culture as well as provides most of its food, raw materials, drinking water and clean air. The recent presidential election also reminds us that, though rural America may be ignored, it continues to influence the nation’s future.

“Rural America” is a deceptively simple term for a remarkably diverse collection of places. It includes nearly 72 percent of the land area of the United States and 46 million people. Farms, ranches, grain elevators and ethanol plants reflect the enduring importance of agriculture.

But, there is much more to rural America than agriculture. It includes manufacturing parks, warehouses and food processing plants strung along rural interstates; sprawling exurban expanses just beyond the outer edge of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas; regions where generations have labored to extract, process and ship coal, ore, oil and gas to customers near and far; timber and pulp mills deep in rural forests; industrial towns struggling to retain jobs in the face of intense global competition; and fast-growing recreational areas proximate to mountains, lakes and coastlines.

As a demographer studying rural America, I have documented both remarkable continuity and dramatic changes in the size, composition and distribution of the population spread across the vast rural landscape.

Where is rural America?

Clearly farms on the Great Plains are rural and the city of Chicago is not, but where is the boundary between what is rural and what is urban? There is no simple answer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency with primary responsibility for rural America, has multiple definitions of what is rural. The Census Bureau has yet another.

I rely upon a widely used USDA definition in which “rural areas” include everything that is outside a metropolitan area. These 1,976 counties were home to 46.2 million residents in 2015.

“Metropolitan areas” include counties with a city of 50,000 residents or more, together with adjacent counties – mostly suburban – closely linked to these urban cores. More than 275.3 million people live in these 1,167 urban counties.

Demographic trends in rural America

More that 90 percent of the U.S. population was rural in 1790. By 1920, that number had dwindled to just under 50 percent. Today, only 15 percent of the population resides in rural counties.

Growing economic and social opportunities in urban areas, coupled with mechanization and farm consolidation, caused millions of people to leave rural areas over the past century. The magnitude of the migration loss varied from decade to decade, but the pattern was consistent: more people left rural areas than arrived.

Hundreds of rural counties have far fewer people today than they did a century ago. In many, young adults have been leaving for generations, so few young women remain to have children. As a result, deaths exceed births in these counties, producing a downward spiral of population decline.

There were brief periods when the rural population rebounded in the 1970s and the 1990s. But, generally, the growth of the urban population throughout the 20th century has far exceeded that in rural areas. Between 2000 and 2015, the rural population grew by just 3.1 percent. Urban areas grew by 16.3 percent.

Hundreds of rural counties continue to lose population, but growth is widespread near urban areas and in recreational areas.
Provided by author

Demographic trends vary across the rural landscape. Rural population gains have been widespread in the west and southeast, at the periphery of large urban areas, and in recreational areas of the upper Great Lakes, the Ozarks and northern New England. Migration, largely from urban areas, fueled this growth. Migrants who venture just beyond the urban edge enjoy the lower density and housing costs of rural areas, but retain easy access to urban services and opportunities. In contrast, urban migrants to rural recreational counties enjoy a relaxed lifestyle in communities rich in scenic and leisure amenities.

In contrast, population losses were common in agricultural regions of the Great Plains and Corn Belt, in the Mississippi Delta, in the northern Appalachians, and in the industrial and mining belts of New York and Pennsylvania. Many people continue to leave these regions because economic and social opportunities are limited.

Recently, the Great Recession and its aftermath disrupted established rural demographic trends. Both immigration and internal migration diminished, as residents were “frozen in place” by houses they couldn’t sell and by a national job market that provided fewer incentives to move. Fertility rates also dropped to record lows during the recession and have yet to recover.

Fewer births diminished population gains in almost all rural areas, but migration patterns varied. Surprisingly, rural places that had once been fast-growing – rural countries adjacent to urban areas and recreational counties – seemed to slow down more. Meanwhile, the remote rural areas that had historically lost many people to migration were less affected, because fewer were willing to risk a move in such uncertain times. It’s not yet clear whether the reduced number of births and diminished migration to rural America in the era of Great Recession will continue.

Other demographic changes are underway in rural America as well. The population is rapidly becoming more diverse. Minorities represent 21 percent of the rural population, but produced 83 percent of the growth between 2000 and 2010. Hispanics are particularly important to this growing rural diversity.

Children are in the vanguard of this change. The rural minority child population has grown significantly recently, while the number of non-Hispanic white children diminished.

The rural population is also growing older. The median age in rural counties is 41.5. That’s already more than three years older than in urban counties. More than 16 percent of the rural population is over 65, compared to 12.5 percent of the urban population. While these older rural residents age in place, young adults continue to leave and the rural child population is diminishing.

Rural and urban America are intertwined

Few people appreciate that the fates of rural and urban America are inextricably linked. Improving the opportunities, accessibility and viability of rural areas is critical – both to the 46 million people who live there and to the much larger urban population that depends on rural America’s contributions to their material, environmental and social well-being. A vibrant rural America broadens the nation’s economic, intellectual and culture diversity.

Yet, rural areas face unique demographic, economic and institutional challenges. Distances are greater and places are more isolated. The advantages derived from businesses and services clustering together are limited. As a result, programs to expand health insurance and reform education may affect rural people and communities differently than in the 50 largest metropolitan areas. Such challenges are frequently overlooked in a policy and media environment dominated by urban interests.

Policymakers need to design comprehensive policies that can address the multifaceted challenges rural communities face. Fast-growing rural counties need programs capable of managing their growth and development.

In contrast, rural areas with diminishing populations need policies to ameliorate the adverse impacts of this migration. Sustained population loss can affect the availability of critical services like health care, education and emergency services. Resources such as broadband, capital and expertise can facilitate new development.

In the wake of the election upset which hinged, in part, on rural voters, more media companies have dispatched correspondents to rural areas. They, and everyone else with a newfound interest in rural America, need to understand that the people, places and institutions in this vast area are far from monolithic. Rural America has been, and continues to be, buffeted by a complex mix of economic, social and demographic forces.

The Conversation

Kenneth Johnson, Professor of Sociology and Senior Demographer, University of New Hampshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Long history of political racism in Florida 

Yesterday we discussed the parallels in antisemitic rhetoric between President Trump and President Nixon. Since so much has been made of President Trump’s purported racism, a political history here in Florida is in order. At least a twentieth-century history.

In 1916, Sidney Catts was elected Governor of Florida after being denied the Democratic nomination in a recount. Catts secured the nomination of the Prohibition Party and was elected. Catts talked extensively about political & bureaucratic reform and married that rhetoric with overt racism.

Here is an excerpt from Catts inauguration speech:

“Your triumph is no less in this good hour in beautiful Florida, for you have withstood the onslaughts of the county and state political rings, the corporations, the railroads, the fierce opposition of the press and organization of the negro voters of this state  against you and the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy against you. Yet over all of these the common people of Florida, the everyday cracker people have triumphed.”

Read more for a political history in Florida…here:

 

Source: A brief history of political racism in Florida | The Florida Squeeze

11 things every Snapchat Spectacles owner should know – CNET

Get the most out of your new sunglasses.

Now that Snapchat Spectacles can be purchased online — and you don’t have to chase down a vending machine — it’s a lot easier to get your hands on a pair of Specs. If you picked up a pair, know this: There’s a lot more to the sunglasses than you’d expect.

Here are 11 tips to help you get the most out of your fancy sunglasses.

Source: 11 things every Snapchat Spectacles owner should know – CNET

Who Counts As Black?

'Crayons' via www.shutterstock.com
‘Crayons’ via http://www.shutterstock.com

Ronald Hall, Michigan State University

For generations, intimacy between black men and white women was taboo. A mere accusation of impropriety could lead to a lynching, and interracial marriage was illegal in a number of states.

Everything changed with the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which ruled that blacks and whites have a legal right to intermarry. Spurred by the court’s decision, the number of interracial marriages – and, with it, the population of multiracial people – has exploded. According to the 2000 Census, 6.8 million Americans identified as multiracial. By 2010, that number grew to 9 million people. And this leaves out all of the people who might be a product of mixed ancestry but chose to still identify as either white or black.

With these demographic changes, traditional notions of black identity – once limited to the confines of dark skin or kinky hair – are no longer so.

Mixed-race African-Americans can have naturally green eyes (like the singer Rihanna) or naturally blue eyes (like actor Jessie Williams). Their hair can be styled long and wavy (Alicia Keys) or into a bob-cut (Halle Berry).

And unlike in the past – when many mixed-race people would try to do what they could to pass as white – many multiracial Americans today unabashedly embrace and celebrate their blackness.

However, these expressions of black pride have been met with grumbles by some in the black community. These mixed-race people, some argue, are not “black enough” – their skin isn’t dark enough, their hair not kinky enough. And thus they do not “count” as black. African-American presidential candidate Ben Carson even claimed President Obama couldn’t understand “the experience of black Americans” because he was “raised white.”

This debate over “who counts” has created somewhat of an identity crisis in the black community, exposing a divide between those who think being black should be based on physical looks, and those who think being black is more than looks.

‘Dark Girls’ and ‘Light Girls’

In 2011 Oprah Winfrey hosted a documentary titled “Dark Girls,” a portrayal of the pain and suffering dark-skinned black women experience.

It’s a story I know only too well. In 1992, I coauthored a book with DePaul psychologist Midge Wilson and business executive Kathy Russell called “The Color Complex,” which looked at the relationship between black identity and skin color in modern America.

The trailer for ‘Dark Girls.’

As someone who has studied the issue of skin color and black identity for over 20 years, I felt uneasy after I finished watching the “Dark Girls” film. No doubt it confirmed the pain that dark-skinned black women feel. But it left something important out, and I wondered if it would lead to misconceptions.

The film seemed to suggest that if you are black, you have dark skin. Your hair is kinky. Green or blue eyes, on the other hand, represent someone who is white.

I was relieved, then, when I was asked to consult on a second documentary, “Light Girls,” in 2015, a film centered on the pain and suffering mixed-race black women endure. The subjects who were interviewed shared their stories. These women considered themselves black but said they always felt out of place, on the outside looking in. Black men often adored them, but this could quickly flip to scorn if their advances were spurned. Meanwhile, friendships with darker-skinned black women could be fraught. Insults such as “light-bright,” “mello-yellow” and “banana girl” were tossed at lighter-skinned black women, objectifying them as anything but black.

Identity experts weigh in

Some of the experts on identity take issue with the general assumptions many might have about “who is black,” especially those who think blackness is determined by skin color.

For example, in 1902 sociologist Charles Horton Cooley argued that identity is like a “looking glass self.” In other words, we are a reflection of the people around us. Mixed-race, light-skinned, green-eyed African-Americans born and raised in a black environment are no less black than their dark-skinned counterparts. In 1934, cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said that identity was a product of our social interactions, just like Cooley.

Maybe the most well-known identity theorist is psychologist Erik Erikson. In his most popular book, “Identity: Youth and Crisis,” published in 1968, Erikson also claimed that identity is a product of our environment. But he expanded the theory a bit: It includes not only the people we interact with but also the clothes we wear, the food we eat and the music we listen to. Mixed-race African-Americans – just like dark-skinned African-Americans – would be equally uncomfortable wearing a kimono, drinking sake or listening to ongaku (a type of Japanese music). On the other hand, wearing a dashiki, eating soul food and relaxing to the beats of rap or hip-hop music is something all black people – regardless of skin tone – can identify with.

Our physical features, of course, are a product of our parents. Indeed, in the not-too-distant future, with more and more interracial marriages taking place, we may find black and white hair texture and eye and skin color indistinguishable. It’s worth noting that there’s an element of personal choice involved in racial identity – for example, you can choose how to self-identify on the census. Many multiracial Americans simply identify as “multiracial.” Others, even if they’re a product of mixed ancestry, choose “black.”

Perhaps true blackness, then, dwells not in skin color, eye color or hair texture, but in the love for the spirit and culture of all who came before us.

The Conversation

Ronald Hall, Professor of Social Work, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump: Good for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Trump and Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference on Feb. 15, 2017. P Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Trump and Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference on Feb. 15, 2017. P Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Dov Waxman, Northeastern University

At their meeting at the White House today, U.S. President Donald Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

There are now more than 400,000 Israelis living in over 100 settlements located in the West Bank. Another 300,000 or so are living in East Jerusalem, which Israel has officially annexed. Driven by a powerful combination of religious nationalism, economic incentives and security concerns, the continued expansion of Israeli settlements is one of the main reasons so many seasoned observers of the conflict, myself included, are increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

A source of tension

Israel’s settlement building has long been an irritant in U.S.-Israeli relations. Successive U.S. administrations have opposed it, viewing it as a provocation to Palestinians and an obstacle to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Obama administration was particularly vocal and unyielding in its opposition to settlement construction. It insisted that all Israeli settlement building had to stop, whether it was taking place in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, in large settlement blocs near Israel’s pre-1967 border or in remote outposts deep inside the West Bank. In fact, the Obama administration’s refusal to officially countenance any settlement building was a source of persistent tension in U.S.-Israeli relations over the past eight years.

The Israeli settlement of Maaleh Adumim looms over Arab Bedouin shacks in the West Bank, Jan. 22, 2017. AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean
The Israeli settlement of Maaleh Adumim looms over Arab Bedouin shacks in the West Bank, Jan. 22, 2017. AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean

The Trump administration, by contrast, looks likely to adopt a more permissive attitude toward Israeli settlements. To be sure, it will not be as tolerant as those on the Israeli right and some on the American right initially hoped it would be.

During the presidential election campaign and before taking office, Trump and some of his advisers indicated that he was supportive of Israeli settlement building. Trump had even given money to the settlement of Beit El, and his designated ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has raised millions of dollars for it. Buoyed by such high hopes, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right wing Jewish Home Party which draws much of its support from Israeli settlers, triumphantly declared after Trump’s election victory: “The era of a Palestinian state is over.”

A few weeks into his presidency, however, it is becoming clear that such triumphalism was premature. Trump has expressed a desire to make in his words “the ultimate deal” and broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. That will inevitably involve the establishment of a Palestinian state – even if the Trump administration doesn’t explicitly insist upon this. Trump has also stated in a recent interview with an Israeli newspaper that settlements are not “a good thing for peace,” and “every time you [Israel] take land for a settlement, there is less land left [for Palestinians].”

Trump will probably work out an agreement with Netanyahu that will allow Israel to build in the large blocs of settlements that it plans to keep in any peace deal and eventually annex. Such an agreement, similar to one reached in 2004 between President Bush and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, will benefit both Trump and Netanyahu, and remove a source of controversy and conflict in the relationship between the United States and Israel.

But although it will be good for U.S.-Israeli relations, it will do nothing to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations. If anything, it will only further damage an already destructive relationship. After all, the land on which Trump will allow Israel to expand its settlements is land that the Palestinians regard as rightfully theirs.

There is something seriously amiss when an Israeli leader is interested only in reaching an agreement with an American president, rather than with his Palestinian neighbor. While gaining American acquiescence for future Israeli settlement building is certainly useful for Netanyahu, it is ultimately the Palestinians who must consent to Israel’s plan to eventually annex the large settlements, probably in exchange for an equivalent amount of land from within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

The Trump administration cannot confer legitimacy on Israel’s settlements. Nor is it entitled to give Israel permission to build on land that the international community, international law and the Palestinians themselves regard as “occupied Palestinian territory,” that might eventually become part of a future Palestinian state.

Sadly for the Palestinians, they are in no position to stop Israel from building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They can only watch helplessly from afar as Israel and the United States decide on what happens to their land.

Nothing demonstrates more clearly the weakness of the Palestinians and the failure of their leadership to achieve their national aspirations. While the Palestinians and their leaders are no doubt partially responsible for their relative powerlessness, the Netanyahu government has done little, if anything, to bolster the Palestinian authority in the West Bank. While Netanyahu flatters and courts Trump, he largely ignores Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Surely, if Israel is ever to make peace with the Palestinians, the prime minister of Israel should also focus on trying to talk with his Palestinian counterpart, and overcoming the latter’s resistance to such talks.

Whatever agreement concerning settlements Trump and Netanyahu might reach, it will not help to move Israel and the Palestinians any closer to a peace agreement.

The Conversation

Dov Waxman, Professor of Political Science, International Affairs and Israel Studies, Northeastern University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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