Contrary to the accepted custom of giving the elected president or prime minister a grace period before launching provocative policies, the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality have no intention of honoring this rule of courtesy. On his very first day in office, an Israeli real estate bombardment landed on Donald Trump’s desk. First, the U.S. president had to learn about the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, which was on the verge of being annexed, though a discussion of the issue was ultimately postponed until after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first meeting with Trump. Then, just on Monday, the Jerusalem municipality announced it had approved the construction of 566 homes in the occupied portion of Jerusalem. And not only that, but Netanyahu proudly announced that he intends to remove all political restrictions on building in East Jerusalem, and that he also intends to promote construction in West Bank settlement blocs.
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Netanyahu seeks to put all the settlements under Israeli sovereignty, and he has no doubt whatsoever that Ma’aleh Adumim in particular will be annexed. In a tone that can only be interpreted as arrogant mockery, he added, “It’s important that we not surprise the new U.S. administration just days after it took office.” Not surprise Trump? Isn’t this the president who plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem? And whose advisors publicly declare their support for Israel’s policies in the territories? Trump, it’s safe to assume, isn’t surprised by any of Israel’s deceptions when it comes to building in the territories. His advisors no doubt remember the tricks the government used to play every time a U.S. secretary of state showed up in Jerusalem to discuss freezing settlement construction.
They’re also familiar with the slogan “a suitable Zionist response,” which covers all real estate crimes and thefts of private Palestinian land. If Education Minister Naftali Bennett is correct in asserting that “a new era has begun with the American administration” – i.e., that everything is now permissible – why did Netanyahu bother donning a mask of courtesy about not surprising Trump, as if the latter were Barack Obama? The answer apparently lies in Netanyahu’s understanding that Israel mustn’t be seen as laying a trap for Trump or as exploiting the freedom of action its patron has provided. Yet the attempt to portray construction in the settlements as an exclusive deal between Israel and the American government is misleading and dangerous. Netanyahu, who declared his agreement two days ago to give the Palestinians “a state minus,” is perpetuating a mirage. Behind the phony spectacle of the Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu has tried to destroy every possibility of achieving a two-state solution, the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic country. With Trump behind him and a silent opposition, the prime minister is leading Israel to a binational state, which will be either not Jewish or not democratic.