Last night it was announced that Netanyahu approved 14,000 new housing units for 50,000 Arab residents of Qalqiliya for construction in Area C, which is under full Israeli responsibility.
News reports add that the construction would double the size of the city, located in Area A at the expense of land in Area C which was intended for Israeli development. Doubling the size of Qalqiliya, which sits on the green line 9 km from the Mediterranean is a dangerous development.
The announcement drew immediate criticism from Netanyahu’s right leaning ministers, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked:
“We objected to the plan called ‘carrot and stick,’ which was and remains a program of reward for terror and the promotion of the Palestinian takeover of Area C. There is no doubt that the plan’s meaning is stringent against the very limited scope of construction approved by the prime minister for Israeli settlements.”
“The Israeli government must promote Israeli interests in Judea and Samaria, not those of the Palestinians. In light of these implications, we will demand a freeze on the plan until the cabinet can discuss it or marketing of 14,000 housing units for Israelis in Area C [is carried out to balance the Arab building plan],” the two said.
Today reaction was just a serious from Bibi Netanyahu’s own party. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said the following:
“The PA continues to incite to terror and harm the security of Israeli civilians. The PA systematically disregards all of its obligations, therefore it is right that the decision to expand Qalqilya be reassessed, as the damage inherent in the plan is great.”
With all of the push back from vital members of the Prime Minister coalition and essentially those that have their ears to the base of the right, why did Netanyahu approve the building, which would radically change the balance between Arab and Jewish areas in Judea and Samaria?
The Trump Peace Initiative Takes Shape
All the moves we are seeing whether they are the Saudis freezing out Qatar, to the PA coordinating with Israel to shut down Hamas are intending to create the atmosphere where Israelis would feel comfortable enough to sit down with the Arab world to negotiate. Trump’s team does not want to repeat the same mistakes as the past. A regional initiative where Israelis and Arabs learn to rely on each other against Iran’s drive for regional control is there to provide a back drop for the next phase, the contours of a Palestinian state.
So what are the contours of this future Palestine under the Trump initiative?
Let’s assume both sides begin talking and agree to the following:
- Demilitarized Palestine
- Jewish communities stay even outside the blocks
- Israel annexes settlement blocks
With these three elements agreed upon the complicated questions of security control, Jerusalem, and refugees will then come into play. By this time the Sunni Arab States and Israel will have some sort of normalized relationships. Direct flights, trade relations, and what not. Trump’s plan rests on the fact that Israel craving this normalization will make the requisite concessions for the Arabs to sign on to making peace or the Arabs needing Israel’s help against Iran, will concede elements to Israel. There is a logic to all of this except that neither side views this as a real estate deal and so unless one of the sides capitulates completely the process will break down. Unfortunately, by then Israel will have lost Area C and perhaps more.
The real question is why the Trump administration has not entertained another plan altogether? Why has it insisted on the same old Arabist approach with just different semantics associated with it?
Why has the Prime Minister agreed to build so many houses rather than just telling President Trump, no?
There are a number of possibilities:
- He believes the process will break down and so he can freeze them.
- He needs a new foil and will allow his right flank to stop the plan, which is a strategy he employed numerous times with Obama.
- He really wants to build more Arab homes.
Any of the above could be the answer. With Bibi you never know and that is the challenge. We are being led down a path where no one except the Prime Minister knows the end game.
The problem with the “peace process” itself is that it is being built by people with little or no understanding of the complex issues Israel and its neighbors deal with. It’s true, the Arabs are being herded towards making peace, but it is Israel that will end up sacrificing the most whether or not Trump lands the ultimate deal or it fails along the way.