As a local mayor, I should spend my time worrying about budget numbers, constituent complaints, and people building on public land. International politics shouldn’t be in my purview; but since the American administration takes notice every time one of my constituents wants to put an extension on their house or we want to build housing for our next generation starting their own families, I need to worry about American policy and the US-Israel relationship. I believe America has been making a policy mistake and misplacing its political capital for decades by interfering in Israeli growth and development policy.
American discouragement of Israeli growth isn’t a recent phenomenon. America has pressured Israel not to build, especially in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, for decades. Under wild disillusionment of a possible peace deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if only Israel would stop building, America has tried playing the honest middleman deal maker. The problem with America’s approach has been Palestinian intransigence and a complete lack of willingness to come to terms with the existence of a Jewish state in Israel.
No matter how many times America pressured Israel to stop building, the Palestinians never came to the peace table with a genuine interest in making peace with Israel. Countless Israeli building projects were stopped, and even those that went on were built under strong American objection and condemnation. Palestinians always found a reason why Israeli steps weren’t enough. For years Palestinian apologists claimed that Israeli settlements were an impediment to peace and stopped the two-state solution. Palestinians claimed that every new house built in Judea and Samaria, the heartland of the Jewish homeland, was an Israeli demonstration of their lack of commitment to a peace deal that would create a Palestinian state and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The American pressure on Israel to stop building, ostensibly done to save the hallowed two-state solution, never actually brought a peace deal closer, but rather emboldened Palestinian intransigence and made the successful conclusion of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal more elusive.
American pressure on Israel resulted in repeated Israeli cancellation of building in the region between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim known as E-1, it caused a 10-month building freeze in Judea and Samaria in 2009, and included an American threat not to provide much needed loan guarantees to Israel to resettle Russian Jewish refugees. Decades later it’s hard to make an argument that any of these resulted in a tangible difference in the region.
Every American administration has pressured Israel not to build and develop in Judea and Samaria. Some administrations have pressured with a heavier hand than other administrations. Most administrations have landed in Israel with an American authored peace plan, and while claiming they weren’t pressuring Israel and the Palestinians to accept, made it clear their plan was an offer they shouldn’t refuse. None of these plans took hold and all now sit only on historians’ shelves. The Biden administration, while pressuring Israel with a heavy hand not to allow more growth in Judea and Samaria, is the first administration not to develop a peace plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (yet). Instead, the Biden administration has taken the position that neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian side should take any unilateral steps that could adversely affect the implementation of the two-state solution at some future date.
Years of unproductive American pressure on Israel has taught Israelis that Americans don’t truly understand the region or how to create positive change in this area of the world. While decades ago, Israeli prime ministers would stress over how to placate American demands while not stymieing Israeli growth, and continuing to develop Judea and Samaria without upsetting the American president, today it has become clear that Israeli prime ministers, whether Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, or Yair Lapid, are not as concerned with American demands.
American influence wanes
American influence in the region is waning. This is clear from Saudi Arabia’s strengthening its ties to China and Iran, a growing Israeli relationship with China, resulting in more Chinese contracts, and countless American requests (demands) of Israel that have gone ignored.
At the start of the Biden administration’s reign, US President Joe Biden and his foreign policy team set specific goals for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Biden administration aimed to reopen the American Consulate that used to service Palestinians in Jerusalem (Israel said no), they demanded that Palestinians receive 4G technology (Israel objected due to security concerns), that the Allenby Bridge be opened seven days a week twenty four hours a day (Israel tried it for a week and then said they didn’t have sufficient staffing to open it more than the current few days a week), that Israel stop building in Judea and Samaria outside of American recognized “blocks” (Israel has announced more building in the Biden administration’s two years than the Trump administration’s four years), and that Israel stop demolishing homes and conducting raids in Palestinian villages (both have increased). Additionally, contrary to US requests, Israel has largely ignored the stringent “blue is blue” rule on Palestinian American passport holders to meet requirements for the visa waiver program (which also hasn’t happened yet).
Biden weighed in heavily on an internal Israeli issue – judicial reform. He went so far as to withhold a Presidential White House invitation. Rather than causing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition to rethink their strategy, Biden’s interference seems to have emboldened the government to move faster with its plans.
As an American-Israeli, America’s waning influence around the world and especially in the Middle East upsets me. I’m inspired by America’s values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was America’s influence on the world at large that brought freedom to billions of people in every corner of the globe. To regain its influence, America must use its position as a world leader judiciously. It can’t keep dictating every term it desires whenever it desires to dictate them.
I want to see America regain its global influence and begin pushing nations to do good for their people. I want America to support Israel’s growth and development, including in Judea and Samaria, instead of pointlessly holding Israel back. I want America to use its position to influence and inspire my Palestinian neighbors to chase peace with Israel and civil liberties for their own people. I want America to take the necessary steps to stop fundamentalist Iran, as it did Nazi Germany and communist Soviet Union. America has the potential to do this and so much more – and it needs to start now.
The writer is a certified interfaith hospice chaplain in Jerusalem and the mayor of Mitzpe Yericho, Israel. She lives with her husband and six children.