Some Israelis and their overseas supporters are celebrating what they see as an opportunity to firm up the fuzzy relationship between Israel and settlements in the West Bank. Some go further, and see a chance to absorb the West Bank, somehow without granting its Arab residents Israeli citizenship.
 
Several events have provided what some would call the moderate extremists as well as the extreme extremists to hope that they can settle things about settlement on their own terms.
 
Most timely is the election of Donald Trump, and hopeful readings of campaign statements supportive of Israel and expressing suspicion or something more threatening about Muslims.
 
Associated with this is the defeat--albeit by the skin of their teeth--the party of Barack Obama, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton that waved the flag of political correctness toward Muslims, including the rights of Palestinians to a state of their own in the West Bank.
 
The prospect of an Exxon CEO as Secretary of State may have dimmed those hopes, but--we'll see.
 
The election pretty much, but not entirely, took off the table the unpleasant prospect of a lame duck Obama allowing the UN Security Council to enact something in favor of Palestine without a US veto, or even joining in the sponsorship of a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli resolution with some kind of legal teeth.
 
So far the President has played by the rules that the losing party doesn't piss on the celebration of the winning party by trying to enact something that is opposed to the winner's campaign, prior to the inauguration.
 
John Kerry has been less careful, using his sonorous voice to oppose the possibility that Israel would enact something seeming to give it authority to "Israelize" land that the Palestinians call their own.
 
Jimmy Carter was even more prominent in violating the no pissing norm, when he authored an op-ed piece in the New York Times, calling on the President to recognize the State of Palestine during his time remaining in the Oval Office.
 
A somewhat lesser player on the international stage, also a lame duck in the sense that he has said he will not run again, Francois Hollande, announced an international conference that would tackle the issues of Israel and Palestine. 
 
Hollande qualifies as a lesser player insofar as Prime Minister Netanyahu could be more pointed in rejecting his invitation than with anything that might come from the White House, and say pointedly that there was nothing an international conference could contribute. He would, however, be willing to meet with Mahmoud Abbas in France, and discuss the future without preconditions, but not in the context of international watchers and prodders.
 
Perhaps the most powerful explanation of Israeli optimism that no one will push very hard to settle the issue of the West Bank on unfriendly terms is the chaos prevailing for some years elsewhere in the Middle East. Whether described as  "Arab Winter" or yet another uptick in the 1300 year on and off warfare between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the bloodshed is likely to have gone way beyond a million dead in Iraq, several hundred thousand in Syria, and who knows how many in Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere.
 
Westerners who worry about the niceties said to come from international law may view Israel as an easy target, but they come in for little more than ridicule in the wide center and near right of Israeli politics, with more than a few left of center Israelis joining in wondering about the priorities of the world's worthies.
 
With the great power of Russia manhandling its way into substantial parts of Ukraine and bombing civilian centers in Syria, Israelis ask themselves if the expansion of settlements in the context of Palestinian rejectionism and violence merits equal or more forceful opposition than experienced by Russia, Syria, Iran, or Saudi Arabia for their participation in one or another area of carnage..
 
Prime Minister Netanyahu's political skill and frequent comments in support of settlement, especially in the context of these other conditions, also encourages those optimistic about Israel's future on the West Bank. However, Bibi may not be the strongest and most secure of elements supporting settlers. 
 
Even if the criminal inquiry into Sara does not touch Bibi, he is vulnerable to the voter fatigue, suspicions, or enmity that fastens on any politician who serves for a long time in a democracy.  
 
Moreover, Bibi is not so firmly on board the bandwagon of Israelis pushing for greater settlement, and is further from those wanting some kind of absorption into Israel of the territory. He continues to speak in favor of a two-state solution, and is wary of going against Israel's major partners in international politics. 
 
Netanyaju spoke in favor of a solution for the people of Amona and others living on land claimed as their's by individual Palestinians, but he worked against the formulations proposed by Naftali Bennett.
 
Other prominent members of Likud, most notably MK Benny Begin, as well as Netanyahu's appointee as Attorney General, have spoken against the legislation to deal with the West Bank, as currently drafted.
 
Even if enacted, it would be a stretch from his previous actions if Netanyahu took steps to implement its provisions against the principles laid down by Israel's Supreme Court, and against the opposition expressed by the White House, as well as German and EU authorities..
 
It's one of the issues on which Bibi has spoken like an extremist and behaved like a moderate.
 
Netanyahu's strongest point is his perpetual offer to meet with Mahmoud Abbas without preconditions. It seems a safe bet to rely on the paralysis of Palestinian politics, which over the years has proven to be the best assurance that Israelis can do what they want--within reason--on the West Bank.
 
Within reason is a tough standard to define and enforce. In practice, it means settlement, and application of Israeli law to the settlements, but stopping short of attaching the settlements to Israel. It also means a modest spread of settlement outward from the existing locales, and abiding by certain international concerns with respect to major construction projections in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 
 
Read that as being wary of the Obama White House, and hoping for more flexibility from Trump and his people.
 
The Israeli left squawks along with their international friends against Bibi and what they call his blindness to political realities. However, many of them temper their enthusiasm for Palestine by recalling Yassir Arafat rejection of what Ehud Barack and Bill Clinton offered, and the similar fate of Ehud Olmert's offer to Mahmoud Abbas.
 
Among the explanations for the decade-long marginalization of the Israeli left is their politicians' efforts to embrace Palestinians with no payoff for Israelis or Palestinians.
 
Also to be considered are many accommodations outside the range of political spotlights. Important ones are cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security personnel, as well as some 100,000 West Bank Palestinians who prefer working in Israel to poverty in Palestine. Currently on the table is the prospect of reopening Gaza's borders to workers wanting Israeli employment, seen as another case of Israel's using carrots as well as sticks.
 
Those demanding clarity, finality, or neatness should look elsewhere for intellectual and moral satisfaction. 
 
However, the absence of those things here, shouldn't silence comments about Israelis' efforts to live without them..
 
-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Irashark@gmail.com 

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