Why Settlement Growth Has Dropped Since Donald Trump Became President

July 11 2018

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.

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More about: Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, Israel & Zionism, Settlements, US-Israel relations

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria