My new column at the American Prospect explains why Netanyahu refused to extend the settlement freeze, and what’s missing from U.S. diplomacy.
The confession of weakness was startling. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was explaining to the BBC why Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should continue despite Israel’s refusal to extend its freeze on new building in West Bank settlements. People had to understand, he said, “Israel doesn’t have a way to stop this building totally.”
Barak is the civilian official directly responsible for the Middle East’s strongest military. He’s also responsible for governing the West Bank, since it’s under military occupation. Nonetheless, he says he just can’t stop settlers from revving up the cement mixers. Since settlement constructions are intended not merely to provide homes but also to set Israel’s borders and reduce its diplomatic options, Barak is also admitting that the government has ceded its monopoly on foreign policy.
Only a bit more subtly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed his own weakness on Sunday. It was the last day of the 10-month building moratorium, which Netanyahu had refused to renew despite the high risk of sabotaging the peace talks. But Netanyahu at least wanted to avoid in-your-face displays of new construction — like the public groundbreaking planned at the settlement of Revava that evening. Netanyahu reportedly asked the organizers — settlement leaders and Knesset backbencher Danny Danon of his own Likud party — to keep a low profile. It didn’t help. At Revava that evening, cement was poured, several thousand people cheered and released balloons, and Danon proclaimed, “the building freeze is over.” So much for party discipline.
Actually, there are two kinds of weakness here — and a more general lesson about diplomacy. One kind of weakness is that the government is afraid to enforce the law and its own decisions against settlers. Through aerial photography and visits to settlements, the Peace Now movement’s tracking effort found that construction of over 450 housing units began illegally during the freeze. The Israeli government surely could have located the same violations. It has police and troops available to stop them, but it is unwilling to confront the settlers. This is part of an old pattern: In a recent Supreme Court hearing about the government’s failure to demolish buildings put up on private Palestinian land back in 2005, the government’s attorney said the court shouldn’t interfere in enforcement priorities. Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch responded, “There are no priorities, because nothing is ever implemented.” …
Read the rest here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment.