A CONSTRUCTION site in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev, near Jerusalem [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last Friday, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. On Sunday, the Jerusalem Municipality announced permits to build 560 additional housing units in Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line in the capital.
And on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced plans to build 2,500 new units in the settlements, all but 106 of them – according to Liberman – in the main settlement blocs.
One could be excused for looking at that timeline and seeing a connection, coming to the conclusion that because Trump does not share the same enmity of his predecessor to the settlement enterprise, Israel does not want to waste any time and is eager to start building immediately.
And that, obviously, has something to do with it. But it’s not only that.
Along with the Jerusalem Municipality’s announcement on Sunday, something else happened that day relating to settlement construction. Following a sharp and public disagreement over the weekend between Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett over whether this is the right time to annex Ma’aleh Adumim, Netanyahu addressed the settlements issue during the weekly cabinet meeting.
“On the issue of settlements,” he said, “no one is more concerned about them than the Likud government and I, and we will continue to look out for them wisely and responsibly, for the benefit of the settlement enterprise and the State of Israel.”
He was responding to criticism leveled against him by Bennett for not wanting to push the Ma’aleh Adumim annexation bill at this time.
On Sunday, Netanyahu said there is no greater champion of the settlement cause than he, and two days later, the largest announcement of new housing in Judea and Samaria in three years is announced.
Netanyahu: The government supports the settlements in any time
This is an instance where the situation in Washington makes it easier for Netanyahu to make moves that he feels can serve him politically.
If in the past Netanyahu had a political interest in his rivalry with Bennett to build in the settlements, this was tempered by concern at what former president Barack Obama would say.
But now that concern no longer exists, and he can build with much less care about what the Americans will say, because the expectation is that – as long as everything is coordinated with the US – the new administration will not say that much.
One of Netanyahu’s arguments against annexing Ma’aleh Adumim now was that he did not want to surprise the new US president, and first wanted to coordinate moves on the settlements with Trump.
He has said a number of times over the last few days that it is essential not to surprise the new administration and to coordinate with it. Netanyahu spoke to Trump on Sunday night, and afterward issued a statement that he discussed the importance of acting in concert, without “daylight” between the two countries. The settlements were one of the major issues – the other one being Iran – that created a great deal of daylight between Netanyahu and Obama over the last eight years. It is clear the prime minister doesn’t want that pattern repeated.
Though sources close to Netanyahu would not confirm it, it stretches credulity to think that less than 48 hours after this conversation, Netanyahu would make such a dramatic move as announcing the largest construction push in the settlements in three years without first ensuring that he would not be clobbered afterward by the new US president.
At the same time, it is also worth noting that all but 106 of the units are to be built within the large settlement blocs. This shows that while he believes there is a new spirit regarding settlement construction in Washington, he does not want to test that new spirit too much.