Netanyahu Capitulates to the Settlers, Again

The decision to begin construction in Jerusalem settlements underscores both Israel's weakness in the international arena and Netanyahu's weakness within his coalition.

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An archive photo of construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
An archive photo of construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.Credit: Daniel Bar On

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday approved the immediate marketing of land for the construction of 436 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jerusalem neighborhood on the other side of the Green Line, and the timing was definitely no accident. The announcement underscores both Israel’s weakness in the international arena and the prime minister’s weakness within his coalition.

In any reasonable political and diplomatic reality, the prime minister wouldn’t be required to approve the marketing of 436 apartments, in Jerusalem or anywhere else. Responsibility for giving final approval to building plans isn’t part of the large bundle of jobs the Israeli prime minister should handle, even a prime minister as busy and laden with portfolios as Netanyahu.

But above all, the announcement underscores Netanyahu’s duplicity and proves that what he says depends in large measure on who he is talking to. After all the declarations of diplomatic flexibility that he made to senior United States officials during his visit to the U.S., where he boasted of his policy of reining in construction over the Green Line and stressed his commitment to the two-state solution, Netanyahu returned to Israel and capitulated to the settler right, which is pressing him to continue building beyond the Green Line.

In March 2010, the plan for construction in Ramat Shlomo became a symbol of the dispute between Israel and the international community over construction beyond the Green Line. That is when a regional planning and building committee approved a plan to build 1,600 apartments in the neighborhood while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel. Following this announcement, a crisis of unprecedented proportions erupted between the U.S. administration and Israel, and since then far-reaching changes have been made in Jerusalem’s planning process: It has largely been subordinated to diplomatic considerations. From time to time, plans have been postponed or canceled out of fear that they would spark diplomatic crises, and over the past year, Netanyahu has almost completely frozen construction beyond the Green Line.

These facts attest to the enormous gap between all the statements about united Jerusalem and Israel’s determination to keep it that way, and the reality on the ground. The gap was noticed by Netanyahu’s partners on the right, who threatened not to support the budget proposal if construction was not approved. And Tuesday, apparently on the theory that the international community is currently busy with last week’s terror attacks in Paris, the prime minister announced that the land would be marketed.

Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including Ramat Shlomo, would remain under Israeli sovereignty according to every peace plan proposed in the past, like the Clinton parameters and the Olmert-Abbas talks. But as long as there is no agreement, or at least a diplomatic process that is actually moving forward, construction in areas over the Green Line is necessarily interpreted as a punishment by the Palestinians and as a provocation by the international community. Therefore, the government must shelve this plan.

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