“We strongly oppose settlement expansion, which is completely incompatible with efforts to reduce tensions and ensure calm, and damages prospects for a two-state solution … We also find plans for legalization unacceptable. retroactive outposts of illegal, “said the spokesman of the Department of State of the United States.
Two weeks ago, while sitting across from Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that the United States intends to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem that deals with Palestinians, which essentially it is an embassy to the Palestinian Authority. This consulate was closed by the administration of the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, when it recognized the full sovereignty of Israel in Jerusalem and moved the embassy of the United States from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Why would the Biden administration start intimidating Israel on these matters now? Why bark about Jerusalem, the Palestinians and the settlements when even the most left-wing officials in the American administration know that the stubborn and corrupt Palestinian Authority absolutely deserves no awards from Washington and that there is no realistic peace process in sight?
What advantage does Washington get from talking about a plan to reestablish the old American mission to the Palestinians on Agron Street (in West Jerusalem!) When it knows that this is a supreme diplomatic insult to Israel and is a red line issue. for the Israelis through a broad left-right consensus?
Also, pushing this issue could topple the Bennett-Lapid government, which replaced the Netanyahu governments that the US administration was so happy to see go.
And why threaten to act with such diplomatic gall when the Israeli government has the clear ability, under international law, to block the reopening of this unconventional US mission in Jerusalem?
Some analysts seek to explain these hostile movements by pointing to the fact that these positions are popular with the far left, or the “awakening” faction in US Democratic politics, which is growing in power. Or that these moves are part of the administration’s expected backlash against the Trump-era changes that lifted American politics from the holy grail of “balance” in Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
There may be some element of such motivations at play, but I think these explanations are insufficient. After all, as mentioned above, even the most ideologically committed US officials to the so-called “two-state solution” know that the sclerotic AP currently deserves absolutely no awards and that there is no realistic peace process in sight. Which means that hitting Israel is superfluous.
IN MY OPINION, the explanation for the Biden administration’s escalating tensions with Israel is in an entirely different realm. It’s a function of Biden’s looming (and ruinous) nuclear deal with Iran.
Biden is signaling to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett: Shut up about the nuclear deal and don’t you dare try to scuttle it or else America will make your life miserable on the Palestinian front.
In other words, Biden is braying about Jerusalem, the Palestinians, and the settlements primarily to force Bennett to submit to Iran.
Make no mistake about it. Despite Iranian rhetoric of not re-signing any deal with the “Great Satan” and Iranian attacks on the US and other targets in the Gulf, the Biden administration is closer than ever to a new / old deal with Iran.
Washington and the other P5 + 1 countries will once again sign an agreement that allows Iran’s nuclear enrichment infrastructure and other military weapons projects to remain intact (though perhaps slowed down a bit). They will withdraw all sanctions against Tehran.
Doing so and getting the “file” of Iran’s nuclear bomb off its agenda and “getting it out of the way” – in other words, kicking the can down the road – is a central goal of the US administration.
It insists on doing so, though this essentially leaves Israel and its regional Arab allies to confront Iran on their own, for two reasons. First, political revenge. Because Trump savagely attacked US President Barack Obama’s trademark foreign policy “achievement” – the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Nuclear Action Plan nuclear deal with Iran. Second, lack of will. This Democratic administration is unwilling to crush Iran militarily, and therefore desperately wants to believe that diplomacy can solve the matter. Or at least, that diplomacy can delay the Iranian bomb until the matter is the problem of another administration.
And therefore, the Biden administration will not allow Israeli critics or others to get in its way. The best route to ensure Israeli acquiescence to a Biden-Khamenei deal, in practice, if not in a statement, is by threatening the United States with distancing itself from Israel on Palestinian affairs.
Unfortunately, this is a substantial threat. Israel wants and needs silence on the Palestinian front for many reasons: to help mediate the emergence of a younger, less radical and less corrupt Palestinian leadership in the West Bank; allow the peace circle of the Abrahamic Accords to grow; to ensure that the revolutionary “Trump plan” accommodates an eventual Israeli-Palestinian settlement and to expand their commercial and scientific ties around the world.
The Bennett-Lapid government also needs reassurance on the Palestinian front for its own basic political survival. Unfortunately, all of this gives Biden significant leverage against Israel on the Iranian nuclear issue, which is truly the fundamental, megastrategic and even existential issue of the American-Israeli agenda.
Bennett and Lapid cannot capitulate to the Biden administration regarding Iran. If necessary, they must cut the pressure on Palestinian issues and continue to oppose the renewal of the JCPOA as they prepare to tackle Iran directly.
They also cannot yield to the US regarding the proposed consulate / embassy to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, nor the legitimate outlawing of terrorist-supported NGOs, nor the inherent right of Israel to support Jewish life in Judea through the ” natural growth “in existing Israeli cities (also known as” Settlements “).
IN THIS CONTEXT, it is worth reiterating some basic realities about the settlements that I am sure Biden administration officials are aware of (but are happy to ignore for the time being, for the tactical reason outlined above).
First, the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria do not explain the Palestinians’ unwillingness to make peace with Israel nor do they justify the jihad of radical Islam in Jerusalem. Similarly, freezing or rolling back some settlements will not bring peace with the Palestinians (it certainly did not in Gaza), nor will it calm the troubled Arab Middle East. The lambs will not sleep with the lions no matter how much Washington, the EU and the UN insist on condemning the “settlement units”.
Second, the settlements have not spoiled any previous negotiating efforts; Palestinian stubbornness and extremism have. The right-wing governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from 2009 to 2021 applied a restrictive approach to settlement construction; much more restrictive than the previous administrations of Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak from 2000 to 2008.
Netanyahu even froze settlement construction entirely for 10 months, the only Israeli leader to do so, but the Palestinians rejected talks with Israel for most of that period, without reciprocal concessions.
Third, most of the housing started in Israel over the last decade has been in cities within settlement blocs that Israel intends to maintain in all circumstances, and “everyone knows it”! This includes Gush Etzion, Ariel-Elkana-Karnei Shomron, Ma’aleh Adumim, Beitar Illit, and Modi’in Illit, and Kiryat Sefer. In fact, the important building started by the government has been in the last two haredi (ultra-Orthodox) cities; cities that are stably situated in the future of Israel.
In other words, there is no ongoing Israeli land grab, and nothing that could spoil the establishment of an autonomous, prosperous and peaceful Palestinian entity, if only there were a peaceful Palestinian leadership ready for genuine engagement with Israel.
Sooner or later, Israel will unilaterally extend its rule of law to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, solidifying the de facto territorial compromise that already exists, and the world will learn to live with it.