This is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of his White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday: For the last 20 years, “Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t. Now, I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but it’s the truth.” The prime minister’s speech to the AIPAC conference yesterday was another version of the same claim.
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A few hours before his meeting with Obama, the Central Bureau of Statistics published data on “Israel’s part” in advancing the diplomatic negotiations: Since Netanyahu established his current government, construction in West Bank settlements has accelerated dramatically. The number of housing starts in the settlements rose by 123 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year, and in absolute terms, the number was the highest of the last decade.
The 2,534 new housing units built in the occupied territories in 2013 are the Netanyahu government’s real contribution to advancing negotiations with the Palestinians. While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was running all over the Middle East and making great efforts to obtain an agreement, the Israeli government was building more and more houses in the settlements in an effort to sabotage the chances of any such agreement being obtained.
Despite Netanyahu’s remarks, the truth has once again been revealed: The current Israeli government has no intention of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians. There is no more reliable litmus test of its intentions than construction in the settlements. A government that intends to evacuate territory doesn’t continue to build in it, and certainly not at such an accelerated pace. Moreover, the government could do nothing that would provoke the Palestinians more than continuing to build in the settlements as if no diplomatic negotiations were occurring, in an effort to push them to blow up the talks.
In an interview with Bloomberg News conducted over the weekend, the U.S. president assailed the continued settlement construction and warned Israel’s government that time is running out to reach an agreement. Netanyahu rejected this criticism, but his real answer can be found in the Central Bureau of Statistics data.
Time is running out, the world is losing patience, and the moderate Palestinian leadership is steadily growing weaker. But all this wasn’t enough to push Netanyahu into a historic change of direction, or at least to restrain his mania for settlement construction. And the price for the government’s policy is being, and will be, paid by all Israeli citizens.