Why Blast When You Can—And Do—Build?
As a long-time observer of Israeli government policy vis-à-vis the Palestinian people, I don’t understand why Israel’s leaders feel they must loudly trumpet their opposition to Palestinian statehood and/or basic rights. On any given day, we get to hear that virtually anything Palestinians do or say is The! Worst! Thing! Ever! (and, of course, woe betide any who might venture the opinion that, hey, maybe not).
I say this because, as per the usual, the hyperbole surrounding yesterday’s statehood vote at the United Nations General Assembly was a thing to behold: Palestinian President Abbas’s decision to go to the U.N. was “pure diplomatic terror”! His speech was “venomous”! Members of Knesset try to burn the Palestinian flag!
Yet if we’re to be brutally frank, bluster and threats are entirely unnecessary. Israel doesn’t need to convince the world of its position or to take extreme measures to make sure that Palestine’s nascent statehood dies in the cradle. All Israel needs to do is stay its decades-long course and keep sending out bulldozers.
Witness the report that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s morning-after response to the statehood vote is 3000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as expedited work in the E-1 “envelope,” a development project intended to geographically join Jerusalem to the settlement of Maaleh Adumim and thus cut the West Bank in half. And thus destroy territorial contiguity for any Palestinian state. And thus drive a final nail in the coffin of the notion of two-state peace.
Though impressive in scope, there is, in fact, nothing new in these plans—indeed, even though Netanyahu committed to President Obama upon taking office that he would not build in E-1, that piece of it can’t be considered a breach with the past either. After all, Israel is forever promising the U.S. one thing and then doing quite another, in particular with regard to the settlements.
Remember the 2003 George W. Bush-backed Road Map to Peace? Here’s what Israel agreed to there, signing its name alongside that of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia:
Government of Israel immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001; consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).
Yeah. Not so much.
And remember the vaunted/vilified ten-month “settlement freeze” of 2009? In response to pressure from the Obama administration, Netanyahu announced a ten-month moratorium on building in the West Bank (though very pointedly not in the legal fiction that is East Jerusalem) in November; on January 1, 2010, Haaretz reported that
Despite the construction freeze, dozens of settlements in the West Bank are experiencing a building boom… According to data collected by Dror Etkes of Yesh Din, and by Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, construction is being carried out in more than 50 settlements and in two other industrial zones.
All this building was made possible largely by the fact that while the White House was wrangling with Netanyahu earlier in the year, construction crews were furiously pouring foundations—because any construction already underway was allowed to continue under the “freeze.”
And just in case anyone’s harboring any doubts about what might happen after Israel’s upcoming elections—the results of the recent Likud primaries should serve as a bracing corrective.
Yesterday’s UNGA vote was a historic moment, and who can tell but some lasting, tangible good may come of it. I don’t know how individual Palestinians are feeling about their nation having achieved “non-member observer state” status. Honestly, if it were me, I imagine I might have wept last night, and possibly thrown a party.
But I’m not Palestinian, and from where I sit, the vote hardly matters. Unless and until the international community, and at its head the President of the United States, should decide to hold Israel to international law and its own signed commitments, a right-wing led Israel will continue to take daily unilateral action to change the facts on the ground so that a viable Palestinian state becomes a literal impossibility.
No heartrending hasbara necessary.