On December 31, 2012, Time Magazine published an article entitled, "The West Bank's 2012: The Year of the Israeli Settlement." Earlier this week, the Israeli Peace Now movement released a new report that makes a case for a different title: 2009-2013: the Years of the Israeli Settlements. The new report (which I co-authored) details the Netanyahu government's record on settlements over the course of its past 4 years in office. The results are incontrovertible: by every objective measure, the Netanyahu government has demonstrated that it is determined to use settlements to destroy the very possibility of the two-state solution.
Peace Now documents how, under the Netanyahu government, constructed started on 6867 new units in settlements. More than one-third of these starts were in settlements located east of the planned route of Israel's separation barrier--areas that it cannot plausibly be argued will remain under Israeli control after a Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. In the years preceding the Netanyahu government, only 20 percent of new construction was in settlements in these areas. Much of this new construction was triggered by the Netanyahu government, which tacitly encouraged settlers to begin new construction in the period leading up the 10-month settlement "moratorium" and then insisted that such construction must be allowed to continue during the moratorium.
Peace Now also documents the record number of tenders for new construction in settlements issued under the Netanyahu government, following the expiration of the settlement "moratorium." We're talking about tenders for 5302 new units in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem--a number that erases the impact of the moratorium. Many of the tenders are for construction in settlements, like Efrat and Ariel, whose location is especially problematic for the two-state solution. Peace Now also documented the explosion in approvals of planning for new settlement construction (and as everyone should have learned by now, such planning almost always, eventually, equals construction). The Netanyahu government advanced plans for the construction of at least 8730 housing units in settlements (not including East Jerusalem), nearly a third of which are in isolated settlements located east of the barrier.
All of these tenders and approvals lay the groundwork for an explosion of settlement construction in the coming months and years.
Peace Now documents how the Netanyahu government's support for East Jerusalem settlement expansion, too, has dwarfed that of previous governments by every measure. It has given the approval to go ahead with final planning for 10,031 units in East Jerusalem settlements. It has issued tenders for 3531 new units. It has promoted plans for construction in areas where settlement expansion will make a future two-state agreement exponentially more difficult, if not impossible. This includes expansion of settlements like Har Homa, establishment of the new settlement of Givat Hamatos, cooperating with settlers to implant and expand settlements inside Palestinian neighborhoods, and placing more of the public domain in and around the Old City under de facto settler control, mainly in the form of national parks and tourist facilities.
In addition, the report shows how the Netanyahu government has broken the commitments of previous governments with respect to settlements. It is the first government since the early 1990s to break the commitment not to establish new West Bank settlements (it established 16 new settlements, through various means). It is the first government to establish a new settlement in East Jerusalem since 1997 (when Netanyahu was also the prime minister). It broke the commitment of several previous governments not to go ahead with E-1. And it tossed into the trash previous governments' commitments to remove illegal outposts, replacing it with a policy of legalizing illegal settler construction and giving a green light to new illegal construction (77 percent of which is talking place in areas east of the barrier).
The Peace Now report documents these and other facts--including the fact that, while Israelis living inside the Green Line are struggling economically, the Netanyahu government has provided billions of shekels of special funding for settlements over the past four years. And the fact that in the face of rising settler violence and hooliganism--even targeting IDF forces and spreading across the Green Line--the response of the Netanyahu government has been lackluster at best.
Perhaps surprisingly for Americans, Peace Now's report was met by cheers from settler leaders. It received a warm welcome from Likud officials, who are very publicly courting the settler vote in the upcoming election. This reception stands in stark contrast to the excuses and deceptions employed by settlement advocates and apologists in the United States--excuses like, "new settlement construction is almost entirely in settlement blocs," "don't worry, it's just planning," and the well-worn, "settlements aren't an obstacle to a two-state solution."
The settlers and their advocates in the Israeli government know better, and they're so emboldened by the current state of affairs that they're shouting the truth, and proclaiming their success, from the rooftops (including some who will likely play an outsize role in the next Israeli government). For once, Peace Now and advocates of Israeli settlements are in agreement: settlements are and have always been about preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And while for the past four years, Netanyahu has never tired of insisting that he really, truly wants peace and does support the two-state solution, if only the Palestinians were ready to make a deal, his track record indisputably tells a different story.
Originally published January 18, 2013 on the Daily Beast's Open Zion