As I mentioned yesterday, Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to evacuate 30 families in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El—while adding housing for 851 more Jewish families across the West Bank—was hardly the blow to the settlement enterprise that The New York Times suggested. Still, Netanyahu didn’t have to do it. He could have supported a bill legalizing the Ulpana outpost, as some of his cabinet ministers wanted, and thus avoided a nasty confrontation with the settlers who comprise Likud’s political base.
Why didn’t he? Fear of international pressure. Legalizing Ulpana, Netanyahu explained, “has its prices, including in the international arena.'" Ynet added that Netanyahu "stressed that a bill legalizing the structures can expose the entire West Bank settlement enterprise to international criticism."
In so doing, Netanyahu contradicted one of the most frequently made arguments on the Israeli and American Jewish right: that pressuring Israel always backfires, and that only through constant reassurance can the United States nudge Israel in the direction we want it to go. A degree of reassurance is certainly important, especially when it comes to Israeli security. But to believe that Israel only takes steps toward peace in the absence of pressure, you have to believe that Netanyahu would have picked a fight with his settler base over Ulpana even if the world had not cared. And that thesis has now been punctured by none other than Benjamin Netanyahu himself.