Netanyahu: If Israel Doesn't Act Wisely Ahead of End of Obama's Term, We May Endanger Entire Settlement Enterprise

Prime minister tells residents of the West Bank settlement of Ofra and the outpost of Amona that they must avoid 'unwise conduct' in the particularly sensitive time between the U.S. election and the inauguration of the next president.

Residents of Amona and Ofra demonstrating against house demolitions at the settlements, September 2016. Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that any "unwise conduct" from Israel regarding settlements in the period leading up to the end of Barack Obama's administration on January 20 could "endanger the entire settlement enterprise."

Netanyahu made his comments during a meeting last week with Likud activists, some of whom are residents of the Ofra settlement and the Amona outpost. The meeting took at the request of residents who wanted to present their position on the High Court ruling concerning the evacuation of Amona, ordered to occur by the end of December, and concerning the High Court ruling concerning 10 houses in Ofra that were built on private Palestinian land.

The residents asked Netanyahu to find a solution that would prevent the eviction and regulate the status of thousands of homes in settlements and illegal outposts they claim are also threatened with eviction. The meeting was first reported by Israel's Channel 2 News.

A person who participated in the meeting but asked to remain anonymous told Haaretz that Netanyahu stressed to the residents that he sees before him the greater good of the settlement enterprise, and doesn’t wish to damage it over a few homes built on private Palestinian land.

The prime minister described the time between the U.S. presidential election on November 8 and the inauguration of a new president on January 20 as a particularly sensitive period, the source said. Citing examples of actions taken by previous lame-duck presidents during this period, Netanyahu warned that Israel must avoid making mistakes during those 10 weeks. 

“We need to act wisely, and you, of all people, ought to understand that,” the source quoted Netanyahu as saying.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu warned the settlers during this meeting that other U.S. presidents have used the end of their terms to advance initiatives contrary to Israel’s interests. “The prime minister added that he hopes this won’t happen again, and he expects the U.S. not to change its traditional policy of the last several decades and to prevent anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Security Council,” a PMO spokesperson added.

Netanyahu’s remarks at the meeting stem from fears in both his office and the Foreign Ministry that Obama will use the period between the election and the end of his term for efforts to create a permanent legacy of his own on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The assessment in Jerusalem is that Obama could do so by giving a speech laying out his vision of a solution to the conflict, supporting a resolution against the settlements at the UN Security Council, or even sponsoring a Security Council resolution setting out principles for resolving the conflict’s core issues, like the borders of a Palestinian state or the future of Jerusalem.

A few weeks ago, following media reports that the government was advancing plans for new construction near West Bank settlement of Shiloh to house those evicted from Amona, the American response was unusually harsh. That increased fears in both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry that Obama might take steps at the UN toward theend of his term.

About 10 days ago, Netanyahu spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and said that Israel expects the Obama administration not to change its longstanding position by either sponsoring or supporting a UN Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue between the November 8 election and the end of Obama’s term on January 20. 

A senior Israeli official, who asked to remain anonymous, said Netanyahu explained Israel’s position on this issue to Kerry and repeated the arguments he had made publicly in his speech to the UN General Assembly two weeks earlier. But during the section of the conversation that dealt with possible moves at the UN, Kerry mainly listened, and at the end, he told Netanyahu that the administration hasn’t yet made any decision on this issue.

In his UN address, Netanyahu said that one of the pillars of the U.S.-Israeli relationship is America’s consistent support for Israel at the United Nations. 

“I appreciate President Obama's commitment to that longstanding U.S. policy,” he said. “In fact, the only time that the United States cast a UN Security Council veto during the Obama presidency was against an anti-Israel resolution in 2011. As President Obama rightly declared at this podium, peace will not come from statements and resolutions at the United Nations.”