(photo credit: REUTERS)
There is an understandable impulse to take action in the wake of the despicable
massacre in Itamar – to respond in a way that in some small measure will
mitigate the pain and erase the shame of helplessness. Launching an IDF-led
manhunt for the murderers was the most immediate order of business.
coherent, however, was the government’s decision to approve the building of some
500 homes in Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Gush Etzion and Modi’in Illit – breaking,
and thus by implication confirming, the “silent freeze” that had prevailed since
the formal moratorium on Jewish building in the West Bank expired last
Channeling energies into constructive endeavors as opposed to
violent revenge is a praiseworthy and eminently Jewish response to adversity.
But building should not be a reaction to murder; rather, it should be planned to
meet the needs of population growth in those areas of Judea and Samaria that
Israel intends to retain under any possible accommodation with the Palestinians.
As Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel reportedly put it, construction in
settlement blocs need not take place under the cover of murdered
In fact, the new 500-home decision underlines the damaging
vagueness of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic policy vis-à-vis the
Though in his June 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu set down
for the first time a sketchy vision of a two-state solution, he has made no
subsequent serious attempt to flesh it out. The resulting drift has left Mark
Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, with a tough job.
Attempting to explain
that there was no contradiction between Netanyahu’s stated desire to move
forward with the diplomatic process and the announcement to build in the
settlement blocs, Regev noted that “all of this [building] is taking place in
the large settlements,” and that “in every peace plan that has been put on the
table in the last 18 years, the large settlement blocs remain a part of Israel
in the final status agreement.”
But Netanyahu himself has not presented a
map delineating the borders of the future Palestinian state he has endorsed in
principle, nor even clearly differentiated between what he sees as “consensus”
blocs in which building should continue uninterrupted and settlements in areas
that eventually will be ceded to that future state.
THERE ARE many
understandable reasons for Netanyahu’s vagueness. With the Palestinian
leadership split between Gaza and the West Bank, the PLO engaging in such rabid
incitement against Israel that the lines are often blurred between it and Hamas,
and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas formally holding to positions on territorial
compromise and the Palestinian refugee issue that preclude viable terms,
Israelis are far from consensually persuaded that they have a “partner.” Under
such conditions, and with the current regional turmoil underlining the
impermanence even of formerly stable allies, why would the prime minister go
about alienating a large swath of his natural political constituency by
announcing a willingness to dismantle settlements?
The “Palestine Papers” leaked
by Al Jazeera in January provided additional indications that Israel’s best
offer falls short of the Palestinians’ minimum demands. And even this “best
offer,” issued by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, and those “minimum
demands,” put forward by Abbas between December 2006 and September 2008, are no
longer backed by the respective sides. Today Israel would offer less, and the
Palestinians would demand more. Positions are polarizing; gaps are
In the coming months, however, Netanyahu will have to reassess
his sit-and-wait strategy. The Middle East Quartet – the US, the EU, Russia and
the UN – has set September as a deadline for restarting peace talks, after which
pressure will build to isolate Israel.
Although the US vetoed a UN
Security Council Resolution last month calling settlements “illegal,” the Obama
administration, a visibly uncomfortable lone voice in the 14-1 vote, made clear
again that it regards the settlements as obstacles to peace. It is far from
clear that the US will again make the unpopular move of backing Jerusalem in
similar anti-Israel UN resolutions ahead.
Failing to come up with a plan
of his own would likely precipitate one being forced on Netanyahu. And such a
plan would undoubtedly be more in line with the interests of the Palestinians,
who have made their demands for independence based on the pre-1967 lines, with
minimal land swaps, crystal-clear all along.
Now is the time for
Netanyahu to be proactive and formulate a peace plan that protects Israel’s
Failing to do so invites unwanted international
Failing to do so leaves him approving new building projects in
the territories as an inappropriate response to despicable acts of terrorism,
rather than as part of a clear, coherent strategy to safeguard the sovereign