What are we to make of a New York Times report in which an unnamed “Israeli official” has told the paper, “The Israeli government wants to reach understandings with the Obama administration that would allow some new construction in West Bank settlements … despite vocal American and Palestinian opposition.”
Does this leak of a plea by the Netanyahu government show that Jerusalem believes the Obama administration will actually unveil a new peace plan that will explicitly prohibit the construction of a house or add-on anywhere over the green line?
The question of settlement growth has been something of a red herring for years. Israel isn’t building new settlements and hasn’t since the 1990s. But unless the United States is going to adopt a position that every single one of these Jewish communities must be held in a choke hold — the better to ease them out of existence — natural growth must be allowed.
George W. Bush’s June 2004 statement in which he explicitly supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state (albeit one that would not be ruled by supporters of terror and corrupt actors, something that pretty much renders such a state impossible under the existing circumstances) also said that any peace agreement must take into account the changes that have occurred on the ground since 1967. In other words, the large Jewish suburbs on the outskirts of Jerusalem and elsewhere close to the old border were not going to be handed over to the Palestinians under any circumstances. Then, as now, most Israelis would be willing to give up outlying settlements but now the clusters close to the old green line are where most of the “settlers” live. Ariel Sharon paid in hard diplomatic currency for this American statement but his successors soon discovered that the purchase was worthless.
Despite the fresh hype that Obama’s people have pumped into the peace process, the plain fact remains that no Israeli government — not even one that would adopt the policies of the coalition that was voted out of office this past winter and which spent its entire time in office trying to make peace — would ever hand over an inch of the West Bank if it means a repeat of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal fiasco that Bush’s gift to Sharon set in motion. Nor would any government be willing to transfer the Jews living in these suburbs merely to allow a Palestinian state, run by an irredentist Hamas/Fatah coalition, to come into existence.
Indeed, even if fruitful negotiations were a remote possibility — which they are not — why should the United States expect Israel to concede in advance that it will not keep any of the settlements in a peace deal? Shouldn’t that be a matter for the two parties to negotiate? If the Palestinians are not expected to concede their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or give up in advance on the right of return before talks begin, why should America insist that Israel act in such a way as to irrevocably doom the settlements. That is not a peace feeler but a dictate.
Can it be that Netanyahu is hoping American supporters of Israel will take this cue to rise up and petition Obama to back off? In the aftermath of last week’s Netanyahu-Obama meeting, supporters of Israel have largely kept quiet, hoping that any disagreements between the two can be finessed or at least worked out behind closed doors. If Jerusalem is starting to go public with its hopes for a change in tone by Obama prior to his much-anticipated Cairo speech, then they may be thinking that those disagreements are about to be aired out in a way that will not to be to Israel’s advantage.