BBC Middle East News has announced that “The US State Department has said it is ‘disappointed’ by Israel’s decision not to extend its ban on settlement building in the West Bank.” The BBC report added: “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also expressed disappointment at Israel’s ‘provocative actions.’” Meanwhile, French President Sarkozy remonstrated: “I deplore the decision to resume settlement construction just as the talks were finally and concretely under way.”
One cannot help but wonder where they all were during the past ten months. In spite of considerable opposition from many within his own party, Prime Minister Netanyahu had, at the urging of the US Administration, bravely pushed through a decision to halt building on the West Bank, as a gesture intended to encourage President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table.
However, Netanyahu had made it perfectly clear at the time that it had not been an easy step to take and that he hoped that “the Palestinians and the Arab world will be wise enough to take this opportunity to move forward in the path of peace.”
As we all know, they did not, in spite of Netanyahu having made it perfectly clear at the time of the Cabinet’s decision last November that “As soon as the suspension period concludes, my government will resume the West Bank construction policy of previous governments.” So nobody should have been surprised.
When Israelis build on the West Bank, it is “provocative”. However, when Fatah* officials named a square in el-Bireh last March after Dalal Mughrabi, who led the 1978 Coastal Road massacre in which 37 Israeli civilians and an American photographer were killed and 71 were wounded, no one said a word.
As I have suggested elsewhere, it is really not in Israel’s interests to recommence building at this stage, but the pressures are enormous. Natural population growth requires additional housing, new kindergartens, clinics and other facilities. There are families with building permits, who have not been allowed to erect their homes. Developers have invested in land, equipment and materials only to find themselves prevented from proceeding with their projects because of the moratorium on construction.
Of course, it could be argued that they should never have been allowed to build on the West Bank in the first place. However, that is another issue. Meantime, there are 500,000 Israelis living there and they too have needs.
It may just be that the ending of the moratorium will force the Palestinian Authority, after stalling for nine months, to come to its senses and commence serious negotiations while the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan is still a viable option. However, time is running out. Let’s hope that the Palestinians will have the good sense not to allow “provocative actions” to derail the current negotiations.
* The Fatah party, led by Mahmoud Abbas, is the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization