How to Lie About Settlements, Land Grabs - and Netanyahu

No one believes you, Elliott Abrams. Not the settlers. Not Israelis as a whole. Certainly not Netanyahu. You can fool some of the people some of the time. But only at a distance.


I like it when people are honest when they talk about settlements. No matter what side they're on.

If somebody tells me that Israel alone should keep the West Bank and East Jerusalem forever because God said so – or even "Just because it's ours" - my feeling is: This is this person's honest belief. I don't share it, by any means. But I respect it as true faith, without an effort to whitewash, misdirect, or misrepresent.

I feel the same way about the opposite side. When someone, usually someone Jewish, says that in their view, there should be no State of Israel because it's an illegitimate, militarized ethnocracy, I appreciate their candor in spelling out what they want to see, and I respect as an expression of true conviction their telling me what they want to see politically or otherwise euthanized. Even if it's me.

In that spirit, I make no special claims for my desire to see - and my perhaps messianic belief in the possibility of - partition of the Holy Land into two independent states: Israel and Palestine.

Which is all another way of asking, why bother any more to lie about what's really going on here, what the government and the settlement movement are actually doing, and why?

In my experience, just about everyone who lives here has a built-in lie detector about this stuff. It's especially sensitive when some Mideast maven who lives abroad, tries to sell you a bill of goods.

The ink needles on mine just jumped.

I happened onto a Foreign Policy opinion piece entitled "Everything you know about Israeli settlements is wrong." Translation: "Bet you can't resist reading an article with a title like this."

I lost the bet. In more ways than one.

I'll save you the trouble. Elliott Abrams knows a lot about a lot of things, but he doesn't know how to lie about settlements.

Mistake 1: Pretend that Netanyahu is seriously putting the brakes on settlement construction. Make believe that the current pace is so low as to refute claims that settlement growth is "making the establishment of a future Palestinian state less and less likely".

No one believes this. Not the settlers, certainly not Netanyahu.

In order to try to prove this, Abrams compares settlement construction housing starts in the first six months of this year with the same period in 2013 – but fails to mention that 2013 saw the highest number of housing starts in more than a dozen years, a whopping 124 percent increase over 2012 – and this in a period when new construction projects in Israel proper actually decreased by nearly 9 percent.

Mistake 2: Make believe that the Netanyahu government's abrupt, post-Gaza war announcement of Israel's largest West Bank land appropriation in memory, is nothing but 'a symbolic move,' part of settlement blocs Israel intends to keep in future land swaps with the Palestinians.

No one believes this. No one here believes that land swaps have any meaning, nor settlement blocs. No one believes that Netanyahu will allow talks to go anywhere, under any circumstances.

Not after he began the war with a declaration that the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.
Not when he refuses to delineate the borders of settlement blocs, or
adds new settlement blocs at will. Not when it turns out that the thousand acres, taken over and declared state land in preparation for construction of a new settlement city, are also claimed by five Palestinian villages in the area.

Not after the foreign minister has effectively ruled out negotiations.

Not, as every Israeli knows by heart, when new settler housing announcements consistently coincide with, and often successfully foil, progress toward negotiations with the Palestinians.

Mistake 3: Act as if "foreign leaders and journalists do not know the facts, so Netanyahu gets condemned for a vast expansion of settlement construction that does not exist."

No one believes this. And now more facts are coming to light. Yedioth Ahronoth journalist Nahum Barnea, who knows the facts as perhaps no one else, reported over the weekend on a document of the government's chief accountant's office, which showed that the World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division, a para-governmental body which acts as a conduit for government funds to outlying towns and settlements, will channel NIS 51.5 million to Beit El settlement alone this year, "two million more shekels than it is sending to all the communities in [Israel's] north and south."

A study cited by Barnea also showed that residents of the Har Hebron settlement zone regional council will receive a per capita support aid average of NIS 1,418 shekels this year, while each resident of the Hof Ashkelon area, hard hit by Hamas rocket attacks, will receive just twelve shekels.

In all, the study showed, of a support aid budget of nearly NIS 200 million earmarked for settlements, communities and small towns, NIS 147 million, or nearly 75 percent, will go to West Bank settlements.

No one believes you, Mr. Abrams. Not the settlers. Not Israelis as a whole. Certainly not Netanyahu.

You can fool some of the people some of the time. But only at a distance.