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Another (Predictable) Jerusalem Settlement Announcement

Gilo_Construction186x140.jpgAs the entire world now knows, yesterday an Israeli planning committee approved Plan 13261, Mordot Gilo - South (aka "Gilo Slopes") - a plan for large-scale settlement construction in East Jerusalem, adjacent to the settlement of Gilo (map, courtesy of Daniel Seidemann).

This development was predictable (and predicted).  Which is really the theme here.


This latest development was viewed by Palestinians, understandably and predictably, as further demonstration of Netanyahu's lack of interest in real negotiations and a two-state, conflict-ending solution to the conflict.  And it came on the same day that Netanyahu compared the Palestinian demand that Israel freeze settlements (not a demand that Israel actually agree to remove a single settlement, just stop expanding them and leave the actual fate of settlements to be resolved in permanent status negotiations) to Israel demanding that the Palestinians give up the right of return.

The Obama Administration responded to the announcement of this latest Jerusalem settlement approval with predictably weak expressions of condemnation - actually, not really condemnation but rather feeble statements expressing disappointment  and the view that the approval is "counterproductive."  These statements rang embarrassingly hollow, coming only hours after U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Israel Radio that the U.S. does not believe a settlement freeze should be a precondition for negotiations.   

And Israeli officials retorted, predictably, that Gilo is "not a settlement"  (they said the same thing with respect to construction in other East Jerusalem settlements, like Ramat Shlomo).

A review of some facts is in order:


  • This latest announcement of new settlement expansion in East Jerusalem was truly predictable: Nobody who pays close attention to Jerusalem should have been surprised by yesterday's announcement -- the project was placed on the agenda for yesterday's meeting at least a week in advance (and the agenda was a matter of public record). Moreover, if people weren't paying close attention to Jerusalem, they clearly should have been doing so, given that the Netanyahu government has not missed any opportunity to mark peace process-related occasions - in particular meeting with high-ranking U.S. officials - with new settlement approvals.  This included on May 19th, when an Israeli planning committee approved another huge East Jerusalem settlement project just hours before Obama's big Middle East speech and his subsequent meeting with Bibi.
  • Gilo is a settlement: The term "settlement" is not a subjective term implying a judgment over whether Israel may/will perhaps retain a given area under a peace agreement.  The term "settlement" is a technical term referring to Israeli construction located east of the 1967 lines.  It is understandable why Israeli officials (and others) might prefer to call Gilo and other large Israeli built-up areas located across the 1967 lines "neighborhoods" rather than "settlements." By doing so, they hope to get everyone else on board with the view that the 1967 lines will not be the basis of negotiations in Jerusalem.  Back in March 2010, during the Ramat Shlomo controversy, I dubbed this the "everybody knows" approach, according to which "East Jerusalem land falls into two categories: areas that 'everybody knows' Israel will keep and where it can therefore act with impunity, and areas that Israel hopes it can keep, by dint of changing so many facts on the ground before a peace agreement is reached that they move into the first category."
  • Gilo is expanding (out, not up or inside): The newly approved construction will be located entirely beyond the built-up area of the settlement of Gilo, expanding the footprint of this already massive settlement to the southwest, toward Beit Jala and the beleaguered village of Wallaja.  It will make the delineation of any future border, and the establishment of any future Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, much more difficult.
  • This Gilo plan is just the start: The newly-approved plan dovetails with another plan (Plan 13157) which is awaiting approval for deposit for public review.  Like the newly approved plan, Plan 13157 will further expand Gilo beyond its existing footprint in the direction of the West Bank.  And the two plans dovetail with another pending plan for a brand-new settlement, to be called "Givat Yael", which would straddle the West Bank-Jerusalem border and significantly extend Israeli Jerusalem to the south, further sealing Jerusalem off from the Bethlehem area and the West Bank (and connecting it to the Etzion settlement bloc), and further complicating future border arrangements and the prospects for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

All of which underscores a simple reality:  Netanyahu cannot resist the urge to humiliate President Obama, to pander to his right-wing flank, and to use Jerusalem settlements to undermine the chances of ever achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. Yesterday's development was just further evidence of this reality.   It is of course possible that Netanyahu did not know that this specific settlement approval would take place yesterday, but in that case, it is because he chose not to know - an example of provocation through a deliberate decision to abdicate responsibility and allow things to simply happen.
 
This being the case, it should be clear to everyone that left to his own devices, which, regrettably, has been and remains the case, Netanyahu is happy to mouth words like "peace" and "negotiations" and "two states" while on the ground working non-stop to turn "peace" into a hollow word, to strip "negotiations" of any significance, and to make "two states" impossible.  The Palestinians' insistence on a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations makes a great deal of sense in this context., given that is virtually an inevitability that Netanyahu will use settlement approvals, especially in Jerusalem, to undermine any negotiations that might get underway.