Mondoweiss / November 4, 2021
Last week Israel announced 3000 new Jewish settlement units in colonies in the West Bank, and the Biden administration responded that it “strongly” opposes the new settlements, and they are “unacceptable.”
But that’s where it will end, says an Israeli reporter. The settlements will go forward and Biden will do nothing, Tal Shalev of Walla News said, speaking Tuesday to an Israel lobby group, the Israel Policy Forum. Biden doesn’t want Israel-Palestine to become an issue, or to capsize the Israeli government.
It’s really up to the administration and what their tone is going to be? How tough do they want to go on Bennett? Do they want to turn this into a confrontation? Do they want to turn the Middle East and the Israeli Palestinian conflict into an issue? I’m under the impression that they’re not and if they’re not turning it into an issue, then yes we’ll have these Ned Price announcements [as State Department spokesperson] maybe once every two or three weeks or once every month or two but at the end of the day it won’t have a real impact on the relationship…
In Europe as well I sense that no one wants to have this fight any more. Many times it feels like, Yes the State Department is back to putting out condemnations. And yes, that of course inspires other European countries. But at the end of the day– That’s the procedure and we move on and we wake up the next morning and everything’s fine.
No surprise here! It’s like every other American administration since the settlements/colonies began. No one likes the domestic politics of opposing Israel or its lobby. If Biden takes on the settlements, he will give Republicans an issue to use against Democrats.
Yossi Alpher at Americans for Peace Now also says Biden won’t do anything.
Bennet’s assessment [was] that, if timed right, this gesture to the coalition’s right-wing base would not bring about any sort of game-changing American protest.
Shalev concedes that Biden will be under political pressure in the U.S. from progressive Democrats “to reprimand Israel,” but she said Biden favors the new Israeli government and doesn’t want to confront it because Bennett has such a fragile coalition that it could be brought down by international pressure. Bennett is returning the favor by not trying to make Israel an issue in the U.S., as his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu did.
Meantime, Bennett has the very same policy as Netanyahu on the West Bank. Build out settlements in the West Bank. Go slow on some more provocative settlement plans for East Jerusalem.
Bennett is under a lot of pressure to give more to the Jewish settlers from his own right wing. And the two new settlement announcements were authorized by two separate ministries of the government– Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. The left-leaning members of Bennett’s cabinet have been frozen out of Palestinian questions, as ministers of Health and Transport, Shalev explained.
Bennett is very weak because his own party has only six seats in parliament, and Shalev said that he has to fear that Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who pushed the new settlement plan, will use a political crisis to form a new government with the largest party in Israel, Likud, which is now in the opposition.
It is notable that Gantz has not addressed the rise in settler violence against Palestinians, though left wing party Meretz has been demanding that he should criticize the settler violence, Shalev said.
Gantz and Labor Leader Merav Michaeli are fighting over the legacy of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin– who was assassinated on this day in 1995. Gantz is trying to rebrand himself as the new Rabin, Shalev said.
Meantime even more rightwing forces in the Israeli government are pushing new settlements in East Jerusalem that are designed to cut off all contiguity between Palestine and the city: areas known as E-1, Atarot, and Givat Hamatos.
“That is where Bennett is out of control. Because some of these tenders are moving forward under the auspices of the ministries of housing and interior,” Shalev said. While others are being promoted by the Jerusalem Mayor, Moshe Lion, who is from a Likudnik background but associated with Finance Minister and settler-leader Avigdor Lieberman. These settlements could “create a huge international uproar, not necessarily with the Biden administration” but with Europe, Shalev said.
“I think at some point Bennett will come under international pressure to halt all of these initiatives. At some point Bennett will have to stop them.”
Netanyahu knew how to kill such plans quietly, and did for the last 12 years. But it will be more difficult for Bennett to do so because of the propaganda from his right wing that he has caved to the left, Shalev said.
International pressure will become more of a force once the Bennett government is able to pass a budget, and thereby give itself more stability, Shalev said. The Israeli parliament passed a new budget today by a narrow vote.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006