Israel to expand settlement construction, as Obama’s Middle East policy collapses

Israel has announced that it will move ahead with the construction of approximately 1,500 housing units in settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In addition, it will proceed with the planning of 1,800 more units.

All of the construction will take place in areas Israel insists it will retain in any future deal with the Palestinians. In addition, as I understand it, the latest construction bids would have been issued along with the fourth release of Palestinian prisoners in late March, had that release occurred.

Israel’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, stated that the new constructive is “an appropriate Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian terror government.” The mainstream media, for example the New York Times, interprets this to mean that Israel is “retaliating” against the PA for joining together with Hamas to form a new government.

That’s one way of looking at it. But we should consider the broader context. Israel, which badly needs additional housing, has wanted to proceed with new construction in its settlements for years. It has foregone such construction, under pressure from the U.S., in the hope of reaching a viable peace agreement with the PA.

No such agreement has been reached. And now, Fatah has joined in a unity government with Hamas, an organization openly committed to destroying the state of Israel.

Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to forego the construction of needed housing units in the hope of reaching a peace agreement. Israel never had any other reason not to build.

The United States has chosen to do business with the new Palestinian government. We will not cut our aid to the Palestinians, and we will not give up on the “peace process,” as dead as that arguably mythical creature now seems. The Palestinians provided the U.S. with the fig leaf we needed by not naming any Hamas members to the new cabinet.

One can argue that the continuation of aid is in America’s interest (though I’m not taking that position here). One can even argue that it is in Israel’s. If the flow of aid prevents the West Bank and Gaza from falling into utter chaos, Israel will probably benefit.

But Israel’s response must be dictated by Israel’s interests. And Israel has no interest that I can discern in either (1) continuing fruitless peace negotiations now that its “peace partner” has joined with Hamas or (2) refraining from needed housing construction in the hope of making progress in said negotiations.

In any case, it is clearer than ever that President Obama’s policy in the region has failed. Obama couldn’t dissuade the PA from the various steps — going before the international community, forming a government with Hamas, etc. — that alienated Israel from the “peace process.” As a result, Israel will engage in construction that Obama has begged it for years not to undertake.

Obama was unable to influence the PA because it understood that Obama would attach no adverse consequences to its intransigence. Obama’s willingness to deal with the new Hamas-Fatah government is but the latest confirmation of that understanding.

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