So the furious reaction to Netanyahu’s settlement freeze has made you think that maybe, just maybe, it’s actually for real, and that he has become a pragmatist? Nope, he’s the same old Bibi, as I explain at the American prospect:
“No Entrance To Bibi’s Freeze Inspectors,” reads the long, professionally printed banner hanging at the eastern entrance to Ariel. Ariel has a reputation of being a relatively moderate settlement. Its residents are mostly secular suburbanites; its eternally re-elected mayor belongs to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s mainstream right-wing Likud. The Ariel finger — the heavily settled strip of land joining Ariel to Israel — is one of those blocs that centrist Israeli politicians insist will stay in Israeli hands under a peace agreement.
But the suburbanites, like the hard-core ideologues of the religious right, are furious at Netanyahu’s declared freeze on building in the settlements. When police and building inspectors showed up this week at Tzofim, a smaller settlement closer to central Israel, to seize a bulldozer being used for illegal construction, an angry crowd blocked their way. One policewoman was hospitalized, apparently with internal injuries, after protesters pummeled her.
The settlers’ response might give the impression that Netanyahu is serious about the freeze, that he has moved toward the center, that he has accepted the need to compromise on the West Bank’s future. Impressions can be misleading. Netanyahu remains what he was in his first term as prime minister in the 1990s — an ideologue, but a weak-kneed one. Under U.S. pressure, he makes concessions that are sufficient to incense his right-wing allies but never enough to allow progress toward peace. The settlers’ fury has more to do with their own fears than with Netanyahu’s actions.
The freeze is really a very thin layer of ice atop the river of settlement growth. Netanyahu says it will last just 10 months (of which three weeks have already passed) and no more. It doesn’t apply to Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, where building of Jewish neighborhoods is intended to block a political division of the city between Israel and a Palestinian state. It also doesn’t apply to 3,000 or more housing units already under construction elsewhere in the West Bank. For example, in Modi’in Illit, a town of 38,000 or so people, work continues on more than 850 homes. A recent analysis by the Peace Now movement shows that relative to population size, the rate of residential building is higher in the settlements than inside Israel — even during the supposed freeze. In other words, the availability of homes will keep encouraging Israelis to migrate to settlements. Unnatural growth will continue.
If there were any doubt of Netanyahu’s commitment to the settlement enterprise, he dispelled it this week. …
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