Ma’ale Adumim, West Bank — For Israelis living at the epicenter of the settlement-building storm, there’s widespread suspicion that Bibi is bluffing.
For all the fury at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to approve 3,000 new units in areas that Israel captured in 1967, it was another, vaguer part of his building plan that riled the international community.
This was the decision to finally promote the two-decade-old plan for the development of E1, a 4.6-square- mile piece of the West Bank just outside Jerusalem, next to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner has been quoted calling the E1 plans “especially damaging” to the prospects of restarting negotiations for a two-state solution. On December 5 Israel’s state planning committee for the West Bank accepted the deposit of blueprints for a large project there, marking the start of a long zoning and planning process that is necessary before any building starts.
This is a move that residents of Ma’ale Adumim have long been hoping for, as it will connect their community more closely to Jerusalem by continuous Jewish settlement. Some even dream that Jerusalem’s light railway will extend there.
Conversely, Palestinians have long been dreading the possibility of this expansion, saying that the location is so important to them that Israeli building there could sound the death knell for their hopes of a viable state.
But on December 4, as the flurry of condemnation for Netanyahu’s decision continued, Ma’ale Adumim residents were skeptical that E1 would really be built. “It isn’t the first time I’ve heard it and nothing happens,” Lev Triskunov, a 55-year-old engineer, complained, adding, “All our government knows how to do is talk.”
Sasha Yofe, a 16-year-old high school student, said of Netanyahu: “He’s showing he’s a tough person, but he won’t do it. There are too many people pressuring him not to; he’s saying it to look good.”
Yuval, a 38-year-old teacher at an Orthodox academy who declined to give his last name, said: “You can never understand Bibi. He has a lot of ideas. Sometimes he just speaks to send a message, and sometimes he acts. My feeling is that if he was really serious, he would have done it without talking. He yells to the outside that he will build, but he doesn’t do it.”
Ma’ale Adumim couldn’t be more different from the caravans-on-a-hilltop stereotype of settlement. It is a busy city of almost 40,000 people, many of them nonideological and attracted to the place because of lower house prices and cleaner streets than in Israel proper. Several locals asked by the Forward to comment on E1 wouldn’t because, they say, they don’t follow the news or care for politics. Apart from the absence of Christmas decorations, the city’s main mall looks like any number of American malls and, with its smart appearance and large chain stores, is indistinguishable from any other Israeli shopping center.
But while Israelis may think of Ma’ale Adumim as “settlement lite” because of its close proximity to Jerusalem, it is precisely this disregard for its strategic position that so enrages Palestinians.