This article was originally published in Hebrew in Ma’ariv.
It was reported yesterday that Abu Mazen had definitively let go of his demand to freeze construction in the settlements as a precondition for negotiations. The Palestinian chief is willing to conduct real negotiations with Israel with no preconditions. “Just come,” he is telling us. The Palestinians clandestinely hinted to the Americans that they would be willing to accept the security plan of General John Allen and 160 of his security experts. It is the same vilified, ridiculed, and shamed plan of the Obama administration, which Benjamin Netanyahu and Moshe (Bogie) Yaalon sent back again and again for improvement until it evaporated. Now, the Trump administration has taken the plan out of the mothballs after it went through a reincarnation and other processing at a Democrat-Republican research institute and became bipartisan. That is to say, the “Obama” seal that was stamped on it was removed with laser treatment.
It is the most detailed, far-reaching, and invested security plan that has ever been presented by any official to resolve the Israeli security problem, should a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria ever be established. The Americans invested everything they had on the basis of one simple working assumption: if they could succeed in providing a solution to Israel’s security needs, they could defuse the primary reason for the prevention of the establishment the Palestinian state. Bibi would run out of excuses, and he could agree to a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders with land swaps. Well, the Americans were mistaken. It did not work with Obama because the president was well known to be an Arab-lover and a defeatist. Now, it’s flaring up with Trump.
Incidentally, this is a creative plan that allows Israel to keep airborne quick-reaction commando forces inside the West Bank, that creates a security belt of Israeli forces and then of foreign (NATO or American Marines) forces along the Jordan River, that gives the Palestinians an airport that starts on the West Bank and ends on the east bank in Jordanian sovereign territory, of course cushioned with innumerable technological means that will give Israel unprecedented deterrence and intelligence. So the Palestinians were quick to agree to this plan. The bottom line is that Abu Mazen put away in a bottle of formaldehyde the word “no” that had characterized him in previous reincarnations. He primarily has been telling Trump “yes.” Does he know something that we do not? Apparently so.
That is the reason that Netanyahu has been walking on eggs since January 2017. The problem is that they are the settlers’ eggs. If we put together the press statements made by Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman about the establishment of thousands of housing units in the last year, we would reach an enormous number. These statements disappeared prior to Trump’s visit. Silence enveloped Judea and Samaria, the Prime Minister’s Bureau, and the various planning committees. A real coma. Let the redhead get here first, they said, and then he’ll leave and we’ll party. After the visit, we’ll show you what an unprecedented building drive really looks like.
And here we are after the visit. Where is the construction? It disappeared with Trump. Out of all the bombastic statements about 2,500 housing units here and 3,000 housing units there, 473 houses have been built in Judea and Samaria as of now. That is it. C’est tout. Under the most right-wing Israeli government ever, with Netanyahu and Lieberman and Bennett and Shaked and Smotrich and with President Trump who was considered until recently to be the messiah, construction in the territories has been frozen de facto. Incidentally, the freeze in Jerusalem is complete and absolute. Okay, so we’re waiting for the American embassy to arrive.
Not only did Netanyahu not give construction free reign, he reined it in. In 1996, after having been traumatized, Netanyahu made a regulation that every house built in the territories must receive three rounds of approval by the Prime Minister’s Bureau. In each such round, a matching statement is also released to the press. The impression created amongst the public (the settlers) is that there is a tremendous amount of construction. Impression is important. At the same time, Israel is condemned three different ways by the international community for every structure that it builds. It’s like ripping a Band-Aid off all at once, and then putting it back on and ripping it off twice more from the same cut. True, when you rip it off all at once it hurts less, but why do it three times?
Incidentally, after Netanyahu came Barak. When they explained him the new regulation, he immediately canceled it. What good would it do? Barak built at an accelerated rate. He was allowed to do so since after all, he intended to bring peace (except he got war). This is the well-known Israeli paradox—those who want peace can go to war and build in the territories. Those who do not want peace can make peace but have a harder time building in the territories or going to war. After Barak came Sharon, who dealt primarily with the Second Intifada. After him came Olmert, who also built indiscriminately since he also sought peace. And then, as you may recall, came Netanyahu. He primarily talks about construction.
And here’s the hottest news: Netanyahu made “the three-round regulation” even stronger over the last few months and from now on, every structure built beyond the Green Line goes through the Prime Minister’s Bureau four times. Once more, just to make sure. Three times is too few. I wouldn’t be shocked if it turns out that Netanyahu also brought Jason Greenblatt into this bluff so that he could reassure Trump that this was not really construction, rather just the noise of construction. A smokescreen, with no fire. Classic Netanyahu.
So far, Netanyahu is managing to keep all the balls in the air. Harsh criticism was leveled at his construction freeze this week at the Jewish Home faction meeting. It seemed that we were at the cusp of a coalition crisis and perhaps the dismantling of the government. The next day, the Yesha Council at the Knesset celebrated 50 years since the Six-Day War. Netanyahu was given a royal welcome at the event. Such displays of flattery have never been seen since Herod the Great, who was an outstanding builder. He met the leader of the settlers the next day and the phenomenon repeated itself. They bowed their heads before him, as if the new settlement for the Amona evictees was really going to be established next week (spoiler—it’s not). In this reality, where the settler leaders themselves have turned into Shenkin Street espresso-sipping dishrags, it is hard to expect Bennett and Shaked to spark riots. That is Netanyahu’s greatness (I’m not being cynical). The man is a magician.
All we can do is wait and see what Netanyahu does in a scenario in which the Americans present the security plan, the Palestinians say “yes,” and Israel is asked for its position. Let’s see it say “no” to Trump, who will probably upgrade the plan with another few toys or promises. If Israel also accepts this plan, the pathway to the establishment of a Palestinian state will have been paved in most of the territory of Judea and Samaria. If Israel is the side that foils this ultimate deal, how will Trump react? It is no wonder that Jerusalem is monitoring the federal investigation being conducted against the president with hope. Hillary Clinton? They miss Obama.