Jerusalem Settlements - The (Proximate, Contributing) Cause of the Collapse
On April 1, Israel’s Ministry of Housing and Construction approved a tender for 708 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. The same units had been tendered before, The announcement of the tender came in the context of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public refusal to meet his obligation to release a fourth tranche of Palestinian prisoners by March 29. And the rest, as they say, is history – or, as Secretary of State Kerry said with unusual frankness, from there everything went “poof.” Some observations about these Gilo tenders – the proximate cause of this “poof” are in order.
- Recycling of Provocations: The Gilo tenders at issue on April 1 were not, in fact, new. They were the re-issuing of tenders issued previously. That previous issuance had failed, with the tenders failing to attract good enough bids to be awarded. The earlier issuance of these same tenders did not cause talks to break down, just as those same talks managed to weather the flood of other settlement-related announcements and approvals that accompanied each of the first three tranches of prisoner releases.
- Timing is everything: Had these same Gilo tenders been announced after the release of the fourth tranche of prisoners – in what would have been the latest instance of Netanyahu “off-setting” prisoner releases with settlement announcements, accompanied by new understandings that would have drastically reduced, if not stopped new announcements – these tenders would almost certainly not have led, in and of themselves, to a collapse. Coming as they did, instead, on the heels of Netanyahu refusing to carry out the prisoners release, these tenders were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – the final humiliation that forced a response from Abbas.
- Settlements set the stage for the collapse. The failure to carry out the fourth round of prisoner releases was no doubt the trigger, but the underlying cause was in large part settlement announcements and expansion, including in East Jerusalem. By all credible reports, there were no Israeli proposals made during the talks that related to Jerusalem and borders. At the same time, almost as many settler units were tendered in East Jerusalem during the 8 months of negotiations than in the previous four years combined. The conclusions were stark and unavoidable: the borders between Israel and Palestine were not being negotiated “inside the room”, but being unilaterally determined by Israeli construction equipment outside the room.
- Attention — Spoilers at Work: The approval and announcement of these tenders on April 1 was almost certainly the work of the Minister of Housing and Construction, Uri Ariel – an avowed opponent of peace talks and a two-state negotiated agreement. We have every reason to assume that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had no knowledge of the approval before it was announced, and was in no way complicit in the timing of the news.
- Netanyahu Cannot Evade Responsibility: Ultimately it simply doesn’t matter that it was almost certainly Uri Ariel, not Netanyahu, who was behind the announcements, because as Prime Minister, the responsibility for actions like this falls squarely on Netanyahu’s shoulders. If Netanyahu was indeed unaware of Ariel’s intentions to move forward with these tenders, than Netanyahu is guilty both of failing to exercise his authority and of being negligent in attending to his responsibilities as head of government. The only way this could have happened is if Netanyahu actively adopted a policy of preferring not to know what the spoilers in his own government were up to, giving them free hand to carry out their mischief while, ostensibly, he could claim that his own hands were clean. There have been too many occasions in recent years where Netanyahu was surprised by settlement announcements, asserting “I just work here.” Such an excuse at this point lacks all credibility.