While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to insist that he is serious about peace and continues to call on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, the actions of his government send a message that fruitful negotiations, peace, and the two-state solution are not on his agenda. Indeed, these actions seem more in line with the views articulated by hardliners in Netanyahu's coalition who openly scorn the idea of any two-state solution.
- Earlier this week, official Israeli government statistics revealed that during the first quarter of 2013, construction in the West Bank increased by 335% in comparison to the last quarter of 2012 - reaching the highest level in seven years. Between January and March 2013, construction of 865 new housing units began in the West Bank. Many of the construction sites are located deep inside the West Bank, east of the so-called separation barrier and outside even the most expansive definition of the settlement "blocs." There are areas that Israel would unquestionably have to cede to the Palestinians in the any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Israel would have to cede to the Palestinians in the context of any future Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
- On June 6th, a plan was advanced for the approval of 675 units in the settlement of Itamar. This settlement is located deep inside the West Bank (28 kilometers from the Green Line), far beyond the separation barrier, east of the Palestinian metropolis of Nablus. This plan would retroactively legalize 137 units that were built illegally by settlers - sending a clear message to settlers that the rule of law does not apply to them. It would also add another 538 units to the settlement - a massive expansion in a settlement that in 2011 had a population of fewer than 1200 people. This plan received initial approval from the Minister of Defense in September 2012. With the advancement of this plan to the next state - deposit of the plan for a legally-required period of public review - the new Netanyahu government has now elected, of its own volition, to move the plan forward.
- On June 9th, another important settlement plan was advanced by the Israeli government, this one for the approval of 550 units in the illegal settlement outposts known as Bruchin. Bruchin was built in violation of Israeli law; however, in April 2012, the previous Netanyahu government announced its intention to legalize Bruchin and two other illegal outposts. The June 9th action - the depositing of the Bruchin plan for public review - is part of the process of legalizing the existing illegal construction at the site (52 buildings and 50 mobile homes). It also would open the door for new construction that would expand the outpost to a total of 550 units - nearly 10 times its current size.
In the case of both the Itamar and Bruchin plans, the public now has 60 days to file objections. Once the 60-day period has passed, the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration will convene a discussion of any objections and then will proceed with approval of the plans. The entire approval process can take several months to complete, and Peace Now estimates that construction of new units in Itamar and Bruchin could start within a year.
As our colleagues in the Israeli Peace Now movement observed,
"The new Netanyahu Government continues the policy of expansion of settlements, even those in isolated areas that will not be part of any future agreement. This is yet another insult to US Secretary of State Kerry who is expected back in the region next week to continue his effort to re-launch negotiations. A peace-seeking government would stop any construction in settlements, especially those in isolated areas."
Indeed, that about covers it.