Once again, Netanyahu tricks us on Jewish settlements

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  February 27, 2023

Israel, Palestine, the US, Jordan and Egypt just held a one-day summit in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, yesterday, intended to cool down the flames in Israel-Palestine. Its main aim was to “build trust”.  The nations issued a joint communique at its end, which stated that Israel was committed to stop “discussing setting up any new Jewish settlement units for four months and stop approving any new settlements for six months”, and that the two sides (Israel, Palestine) would work closely to “prevent further violence”, in the name of advancing toward a “just and lasting peace”, as Reuters reported.

But yesterday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that the whole part about the settlement freeze was fake news. In Hebrew, he wrote that the headlines were “tweets” — just hearsay:

“In contradiction to the tweets, the building and the [retroactive] legalization [of outposts] in Judea and Samaria [biblical names for occupied Palestinian West Bank] will continue in accordance with the original timeline for planning and building, with no changes. There is no freeze and will be no freeze”.

How could it be? Was Reuters lying? Did the US just issue a lie without consulting Netanyahu?

Haaretz daily seeks to explain the discrepancy:

“In the joint announcement, there was no reference to freezing decisions that had already been made regarding construction in the settlements. Sources familiar with the talks told Haaretz that the thousands of housing units greenlit last week are all the construction plans that were ready for approval.”

So, the massive wave of construction permits – over 7,000 permits – was passed a few days prior to the summit, and will not be annulled by it. Likewise, the nine settler-outposts which were retroactively legalized, would not be affected by the supposed freeze. It’s a done deal.

It is worth reflecting upon the magnitude of those 7,000 permits. Last year Israel issued 4,427 permits for construction of Jewish settlements. In 2021, another 3,645 were approved. In other words, Israel has already processed a bulk of permits which far exceeds its tempo in the past years (in fact almost doubles it), so it has surely satiated its colonialist thirst for the coming six months of stoppage time.

Haaretz pretty much confirms that understanding. There’s not even a pause in pouring concrete:

“According to [sources familiar with the talks], the commitment not to discuss new construction in the settlements for four months does not constitute a real concession on Israel’s part. This is because the construction planning process requires a great deal of time and effort, so it would take several months regardless before the council could approve additional housing units.”

And these supposed concessions were being offered ahead of the summit. Fully a week ago, Haaretz reported that  “Israel has informed the United States that it will not build or approve new Jewish settlements in the West Bank beyond the nine that were approved last week – a move which enraged Western leaders”.

Notice how the supposed liberal opposition leader Yair Lapid responded to that report of a concession a week ago:

“Opposition leader Yair Lapid said that ‘he was surprised that the government agreed to the freeze. We never agreed to this, despite repeated requests from the Americans’.”

So Lapid, the good guy as far as liberal Zionists are concerned, was basically boasting (at his party meeting), that he was tougher against the ‘Americans’, and that he was a tougher settler than Netanyahu. So much for opposition.

Michael Lynk, former United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, observed these political dynamics ahead of the summit when he wrote: “[O]n the other hand, Netanyahu’s far-right allies in the new government, particularly Itamar Ben Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich, were relatively quiet about the pause, indicating that they understood the prevailing American-Israeli quid pro quo on the settlements”.

That reference to “quid pro quo” means a deal that the United States cut with other countries at the United Nations Security Council to water down a resolution proposal by UAE, calling all the settlements what they are – “flagrant violations” of international law. The resolution morphed into a non-binding Security Council statement that avoids mentioning their illegality.

But that silence on the part of Netanyahu’s partners-in-war-crimes was temporary. Smotrich, who is now in multiple ministerial positions and poised to realize his full Apartheid plantweeted yesterday:

“I have no idea what they talked about or didn’t talk about in Jordan. I heard about this useless conference from the media just like you. But one thing I do know: there will be no freeze of the building and development in the settlement[s] not even for one day (it is under my authority)…”

Smotrich’s tweet was published exactly two hours before Netanyahu tweeted that there will be no freeze.

Following Smotrich’s tweet, his alter-ego and fellow Minister of National Security Ben-Gvir tweeted his own mockery of the summit:

“What happened in Jordan (if it happened), stays in Jordan”.

So there you have it. The “freeze” was a trick. It wasn’t a real concession – it just sounded good. It gave Netanyahu the opportunity to have his cake and eat it. He’s now supposedly compromising, but the concessions were already made. When the noises come from the further right– and he is the most left member of his coalition!– about him being soft, he can assure them that he wasn’t.

This is very much like that now-famous secret video from 2001 (which surfaced a decade later), in which Netanyahu explained to a settler family how he manipulated the Oslo agreements, to avoid a “racing to the 1967 lines”:

“How did we do it? Defined Military zones, I said, are security zones. From my point of view, the Jordan Valley is a defined military zone, right?”

That video is where Netanyahu also boasted: “I know what America is, America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in the way”.

Recall that Biden was in the Obama administration in December 2016 when it abstained on a UN Security Council resolution that described the settlements as a “flagrant” violation of international law. But Obama was a lame duck; and Biden is running for reelection.

That is enraging. But it should be equally shocking that Yair Lapid made a statement that echoes Netanyahu and Smotrich.

And so it continues. The Israeli settlement enterprise is a “national value”, as its quasi-constitutional ‘Nation-state’ law of 2018 states, and it specifies, exclusively, “Jewish settlement”.

It is not going away. It is not even freezing, not even temporarily. The minister now singularly in charge of it, Smotrich, says it won’t even freeze for a day. And these settlements sit at the very core of the whole matter. As Lynk writes:

“The settlements are the engine of the Israeli occupation, the “facts on the ground” for Israel’s looming quest to annex the West Bank, and the source of many of the human rights violations against the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

It’s not complicated at all. In fact, Lynk notes, ”the illegality of the Israeli settlements is also one of the most settled issues in modern international law”.

And here we are discussing whether it’s freeze or no freeze, while Netanyahu, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir chuckle among themselves – they’ve tricked us again. We really are easy to move.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark