In 2017, the number of authorizations for new construction in the Jewish communities of the West Bank dropped by 47 percent; during the first three months of 2018, they hit a record low. Arguing that the Trump administration’s policies are responsible for this trend, Evelyn Gordon cites Yossi Klein Halevi’s perceptive comment that “the only pressure Israelis can’t resist is the pressure of an embrace.” And, writes Gordon, there are good reasons for this:
Contrary to his image overseas, Benjamin Netanyahu has never displayed much interest in settlement expansion. As I’ve noted before, settlement construction during most of his last nine years in office was lower than under any of his predecessors, including [those most committed to territorial compromise] like Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. . . .
But most of Netanyahu’s party and many of his coalition partners do favor expanding settlements. Thus, to persuade them to show restraint, he must be able to demonstrate that doing so will produce tangible international benefits—either increased international support or at least reduced international hostility. And since no Israeli concession has ever produced any recompense from Europe, . . . that means from America.
Under the Obama administration, settlement restraint provided no benefits whatsoever. In 2009, for instance, Netanyahu, [responding to U.S. pressure], instituted an unprecedented ten-month settlement freeze to facilitate negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, refused even to show up for nine months and then walked out in the tenth. . . .
At no point during President Obama’s two terms did administration officials even give Netanyahu lip-service credit for restraining settlement construction. Instead, they picked nonstop public fights over the issue. Thus, toward the end of Obama’s tenure, it had become impossible for Netanyahu to persuade his cabinet that Israel was gaining anything by this restraint, and settlement construction began rising again. . . .
In the past eighteen months, [by contrast], President Trump has provided unstinting support for Israel at the United Nations via Ambassador Nikki Haley; recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy there; publicly confronted the PA’s “pay-to-slay” policy; cut funding for UNRWA, the organization whose sole purpose is to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem; and abandoned the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. For anyone but the most rabid settlement supporter, this is clearly a worthwhile tradeoff.