Construction in Beit El ceased a decade ago. Five years later, at the instruction of the High Court of Justice, the Ulpana neighborhood in that community was demolished. In order to calm ruffled spirits Prime Minister Netanyahu promised to quickly build 300 new housing units there. Three years passed and nothing was built. Instead there were more demolitions, with the total destruction of the Dreinoff project buildings in that settlement.
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In a combination strike-and-protest against the halt in construction, the Beit El council moved its activities to Jerusalem, setting up a protest tent. A significant number of cabinet ministers show up there, making promises and lending their support. However, these visits and the words expressed there are akin to words said when consoling the bereaved.
Beit El, founded 40 years ago, is not the only settlement in which construction has been halted. It is also not the only one in which this situation is threatening its existence. Many of the founders are over 70 years old. In the first years they and many others who joined them had space on which to erect their homes. However, since the settlement’s 30th anniversary it cannot even absorb its own sons and daughters. This has led to an aging of the settlement, to closure of kindergarten classes and a school, and to doubt about the future. For a Palestinian state to be established in the region, Netanyahu need not make any concessions his voters object to – it’s enough to let these settlements die a natural death.
A similar situation exists in Ma’aleh Adumim, a city within the national consensus. Up to a decade ago young families from Jerusalem moved there, mainly due to lower housing costs. This helped Jerusalem, where they continued to work, as well as, of course, the new city. Now with the halt in construction, the second and third generations have to leave. Due to the limited supply of housing, people who insist on remaining there have to pay prices that aren’t much different from those in Jerusalem. There too kindergarten classes are closing and the number of schoolchildren is declining.
Cabinet ministers are quoting remarks they hear from Netanyahu’s circles, apparently coming from the prime minister himself, according to which construction in these places is “counter to agreements [i.e. dictates – I.H.] reached recently with the Americans.”
In other words, a rightist government has agreed to dry up Ma’aleh Adumim, to strangle Ofra and to turn Beit El into an old folks’ home. It’s hard to believe, but many signs, not only recent ones, indicate that this may be true and that this is the way Netanyahu has chosen to implement his Bar-Ilan speech, including in the Jerusalem area. He pinned the blame, naturally, on the “evil” Obama, and now on Donald Trump, “Israel’s savior.”
Even if the restraints are somewhat loosened and construction is permitted piecemeal, with 30 or 50 units allowed here and there, this will not change Netanyahu’s long-term strategic objectives. To ensure Jerusalem’s future – and, no less than that, the future of the settlement enterprise – the ideological wing of Likud must join its partners in Habayit Hayehudi to thwart Netanyahu’s indirect strategy for establishing a Palestinian state on the ruins of Jewish settlements.
Since holding onto power is the only thing that really matters to Netanyahu, he could be coerced into building thousands of units in new neighborhoods in the capital and in Judea and Samaria settlements. If the Trump administration is indeed a friendly one it will swallow this. “Our future does not depend on what the gentiles say” said David Ben-Gurion during much harder times for American-Israeli relations, “but on what the Jews do.” That was true then, and it is so much truer today.