Thanks to political, bureaucratic and logistical requirements, Israel’s settlement project is inherently complicated. The approval process for new units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has more layers than a thick piece of baklava. In the more contested areas, where even some hard-liners believe there could be a Palestinian state, there are additional administrative hurdles. If you thought this was designed to obscure what’s going on, to placate some while igniting others, you’d be right.
That’s what happened in the latest series of provocative announcements from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, strategically timed to coincide with the resumption of negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Only one of the moves — for 1,200 units in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs that Israel expects to keep in any land-swap deal — will actually lead to immediate construction. Another 878 units moved one step along an intricate, bureaucratic path to approval with nothing changing on the ground anytime soon.
And yet another decision added 90 settlements to the government’s “national priority list” of communities that are eligible to receive special incentives and treatment. The list includes several lesser-known names that activists describe as illegal outposts, but Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, insisted were officially legalized prior to last January elections.
“How can the government support unauthorized outposts?” he asked in an interview.
How can the government keep adding to the settlement project and then pretend that it’s not?
It may well be that the Netanyahu administration is technically within its rights to allow new construction in large settlement blocs that it expects to stay part of the Jewish state. It may be that Palestinians will jump on any announcement from any stage in the process to justify their own intransigence. But why on earth give them a reason? To placate pro-settlement activists who see through this charade anyhow?
The new names on the priority list need another round of government approval before incentives can kick in, since they are in the West Bank. This is offered as a reason not to get too excited. Sounds to us like a reason to wonder if the shenanigans will ever end.