Connecting the dots between settlements and Trump

It is obvious that the government – often labeled the most right-wing government in Israel’s history – wanted to soften the blow of the Amona evacuation.

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February 2, 2017 04:18
3 minute read.
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet with US President Donald Trump in less than two wee

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet with US President Donald Trump in less than two weeks.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The timeline tells the story.

Late Tuesday night, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman put out a statement, the second one in just over a week, saying that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to advance and authorize the construction of 3,000 housing units in West Bank settlements.

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Eight hours later on, early Wednesday morning, a couple of thousand border policeman trudged up rocky Samarian hills to evacuate the residents – and their backers – of some 40 homes in Amona.

And in exactly two weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a meeting in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump.

Connect the dots.

It is obvious that the government – often labeled the most right-wing government in Israel’s history – wanted to soften the blow of the Amona evacuation by announcing the newest batch of housing authorizations. If it wasn’t obvious, then the fact that it was announced minutes after the IDF ordered that the evacuation would take place Wednesday, made it so.

And if that didn’t do it, the Prime Minister Office’s announcement Wednesday evening that it was setting up a team to begin planning the establishment of the first government-authorized settlement in more than a quarter of a century should have rammed home the message that the settlement enterprise would be compensated for the loss of Amona.

Netanyahu: The government supports the settlements in any time

And if even all that wasn’t enough, just listen to what Liberman said Wednesday morning during a visit to Ariel.

First he said his heart was with the residents of Amona. Then he drew a link to the announcements to build thousands of more units, by discussing those plans for new construction and and how it would allow normal life to return to Judea and Samaria. He also said that this would all be accompanied by the building of more roads and infrastructure.

Then he made a comment that led from this dot to the next one, Netanyahu’s upcoming visit with Trump.

Most of the new building permits, he said, “are in the settlement blocs, because there live 90% of the population that has suffered over the last eight years from the [settlement construction] freeze.”

And it is the settlement blocs that will likely be high on the agenda of the Trump-Netanyahu talks next month, with the expectation that some kind of agreement will be reached in Washington regarding where beyond the Green Line building will be allowed to take place under the Trump administration.

One likely scenario is that the Trump administration will revive aspects of former president George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon ahead of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, a letter Jerusalem interpreted as allowing construction inside the settlement blocs.

This will leave Netanyahu with two quandaries. The first is what Trump will ask in return. More businessman than seasoned diplomat or politician, it is clear that if Trump gives something to Israel, he will want something in return.

And the second quandary that Netanyahu will have to deal with is whether a US green light for building in the settlement blocs will be enough to satisfy Bayit Yehudi and the right wing of his coalition.

For even as the recent flurry of announcements over new settlement housing indicates that Netanyahu’s intention is to build in the main settlement blocs inside communities that are close to the Green Line, this policy is not the one that has been adopted by Bayit Yehudi or many of the settlement leaders, who want to see not only construction throughout the territories, but also annexation of at least part of the West Bank.

Satisfying Bayit Yehudi and the settlement leaders will demand more from Netanyahu than merely connecting dots – it will essentially demand that he be able to circle a square.

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