Israel’s settlement freeze

I don’t think we’ve commented on the announcement last week that Israel will implement a 10-month freeze on private building in the West Bank. The key to understanding this decision, I think, is to recognize the limited nature of the freeze.
Jeff Barak, former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, makes the point:

[T]he 10-month settlement freeze will not change the reality of construction work in the West Bank in any meaningful way. The settlers knew what was coming and prepared accordingly. According to Defense Ministry data, around 2,500 housing units are presently under construction and so will not be affected by the freeze, which only refers to new building starts. On top of this, Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently approved the construction of another 490 units, which will also escape the freeze. The security cabinet’s decision also permits the building of public facilities such as schools and synagogues, as opposed to private housing, and almost immediately after the security cabinet vote, Barak authorized the construction of 28 new public facilities in the settlements.
So. . .whoever thinks he won’t be seeing tractors and bulldozers working in Judea and Samaria over the next 10 months is deluding himself. Furthermore, east Jerusalem, the most sensitive of all areas in the territories, has not been included in the settlement freeze.

This is not to say that the freeze is meaningless. Netanyahu modified his previous, entirely rejectionist position on a “natural construction” freeze. And he did so without receiving any concession from the Palestinians. In a world with a real “peace process,” Netanyahu’s move would be regarded as a step, albeit a small one, in the direction of peace. Indeed, that, more or less, is how the Obama administration, which perceives such a world, seems to be characterizing the move.
We do not inhabit such a world, though. So, through no fault of Netanyahu’s, the limited freeze is not a move in the direction of peace. Rather, it is a clever decision that (1) enables Netanyahu to maintain and even broaden his appeal with the Israeli center and (2) puts the Obama administration in a position where its best move is probably to portray the “freeze” as not devoid of meaning, if for no other reason than to save a little bit of face.


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