E. Jerusalem (partial) Settlement Freeze May Soon Defrost

For several months, we have pointed out that Netanyahu has not published even one new tender for East Jerusalem settlement construction since June 2014, nor have any new statutory plans been approved since the Givat Hamatos approval in September 2014. (Lest we be misunderstood, it is inappropriate to talk of a full settlement freeze, since construction of previously approved units is going ahead at a frenetic pace). We have also admitted to being puzzled as to Netanyahu’s motivations in this regard.

On July 31st, the dean of Israel’s political commentators, Nahum Barnea apparently solved this riddle for us, writing in Yedioth Ahronoth:

“During the coalition negotiations, a secret understanding was reached…You will not find this understanding in the text of the coalition agreement, or in writing. Netanyahu made it clear to the Jewish Home Ministers, he is not compelled to expedite the planning or marketing of plans in Judea and Samaria, until after the Jewish holidays. In essence, he decided on a freeze for half a year. He explained this freeze as a result of diplomatic considerations – the campaign against the Iran deal, and against the Palestinians at the UN. The Jewish Home Ministers say they tried to dissuade him. They were compelled to swallow this…

“There have been freezes in the past, but none have gone as quietly as this. The events in Beit El last week pushed Netanyahu to change course. His fear of internal turmoil in the Likud and in his coalition took precedence over the diplomatic damage [and he announced the construction of 300 units in Beit El and both planning and marketing of units in East Jerusalem]. In the battle over Netanyahu’s fears, the settler lobby beat Obama, and beat Iran. Just as was the case on the eve of the elections, Netanyahu returned to his base…Netanyahu wanted to signal to the right: ‘I’m with you’.”

It is interesting to note just what happened with respect to the East Jerusalem settlement announcements made by Netanyahu after the Beit El evacuation.

Just as Netanyahu had announced, on July 31st, the Israel Land Authority published two “new” tenders for the construction of 91 units in Pisgat Ze’ev. These appeared as “new” tenders on the ILA website – but they weren’t. Both were first published in mid-2012, failed, and were subsequently republished a number of times. This allowed Netanyahu to tell the settlers: “I have renewed settlement construction” while telling the international community: “There’s nothing new in these tenders.”

So what may we anticipate “after the holidays” – that is, starting in October 2015? Here are our predictions:

  • An end to “restraint”: It is unlikely that Netanyahu will continue his restraint on settlements after October 7.  The more that Netanyahu is compelled to crack down on settler terror – as he is being pressured to do following the recent settler arson/murder in the West Bank – the more he will likely seek to assuage the settlers with more new settlement construction. Likewise, the new Knesset session commencing in October will likely lead Netanyahu to try to bolster his coalition by means of new settlement construction.
  • Focus on West Bank/Greater Jerusalem: There are only residual tenders that Netanyahu can publish in East Jerusalem (excepting Givat Hamatos). This leads us to believe that settlement expansion will focus on (1) the West Bank, and Jerusalem’s environs in the West Bank, and (2) the ideologically-driven settler enclaves within existing Palestinian neighborhoods. The latter prospect does not augur well for the Palestinian residents of Batan al-Hawa, discussed earlier in this report.
  • Watch out for Givat Hamatos: If Netanyahu’s coalition begins to fall apart, we cannot rule out his bolstering it by issuing tenders at Givat Hamatos, which he can do at any time and without warning.
  • E-1 Still not Likely: Netanyahu is not likely to give the green light for E-1, and if he does, there will be a “trip wire,” meaning that up to a year will pass between the resumption of planning and the publication of tenders.