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An irrevocable power shift in Judea and Samaria?

Whatever lies behind Israel’s decision to approve 900 new Palestinian homes in “Area C,” it’s a dangerous precedent with severe consequences.

The European Union flag flies over illegal construction in Area C of Judea and Samaria. Credit: Courtesy.
The European Union flag flies over illegal construction in Area C of Judea and Samaria. Credit: Courtesy.
Alex Nachumson
Alex Nachumson

The recent relatively unprecedented approval by the Israeli government to build 900 new Palestinian homes in “Area C,” which is under IDF military and civil control, at the same time as announcing more than 2,000 Israeli homes in Judea and Samaria, is the result of at least three cases of political pressure.

The first clearly comes from the White House. Hopefully, a great reward awaits Israel in return for this move—one so far unbeknownst to the public.

Even if such a prize is on the horizon, however, this is a dangerous precedent that links Israeli and Palestinian construction at a very high ratio of around two Israeli homes for every Palestinian home that is built in “Area C.” This area was placed under full Israeli control in the Oslo Accords, a recognized international agreement.

For years and on many occasions, Israel has struggled to prevent illegal Palestinian construction there—construction directly funded by global players like the European Union, in direct violation of the accords.

The second case likely stems from an Israeli desire to strengthen the Palestinian Authority vis-à-vis Hamas. This, too, is probably a result of American pressure and has been openly stated as a U.S. interest by the Biden administration. Here, too, the price is very high.

It should be remembered that the United States is simultaneously demanding other gestures, including a reopening of its consulate in eastern Jerusalem, which would be another very significant gift to the P.A. It would constitute a return to the pre-Trump policy of de facto dividing Jerusalem into two service areas for two populations—Jewish and Arab.

The third and arguably most critical case of political pressure is that which exists within the government. This has arisen out of a need for balance between right and left in the coalition, and to ensure its survival at all costs, especially in the critical days ahead of the approval of the budget.

Lest one imagine that the reward for the above pressure will have been worth it—particularly as Israel engages in an almost daily battle with Iran and its proxies, such as Hezbollah—a U.S. State Department spokesman announced on Friday that approving the construction of thousands of housing units in Jewish towns and cities in Judea and Samaria “fundamentally undercut[s] efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.”

This predictable and rote announcement possibly contradicts the assumption that there is a deal behind the scenes that provides Israel with a significant reward in return for its precious tribute to the P.A.

Otherwise, why would the State Department express dissatisfaction? It is possible that the White House, through the State Department, is paying lip service to those who oppose this quid pro quo, such as the E.U., Iran and the progressives in the Democratic Party?

If so, this is bad news, because it indicates that the White House is unable, or unwilling, to openly back Israel, without fear of reaction or recrimination.

Another possibility is that the Israeli government made the gesture unilaterally, without an agreement, and now finds that it did not sufficiently satisfy the White House.

The problem here might be the result of internecine strife. Perhaps Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved this decision without Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s approval, in order to lead a policy and weaken the premier.

A third possible scenario is that Bennett consented to Gantz’s approval of Palestinian construction, so as to make him the settlers’ enemy, thus weaken his negotiations with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form an alternative government.

Whatever the reason, the damage has already been done, and it’s very severe. Now, anyone who wants to put pressure on Israel understands that it works.

Apart from the unprecedented nature of approving so many Palestinian homes in Area C—a prize that is crucial to the P.A.’s goal of holding onto vast swathes of Judea and Samaria—it is a display of Israeli weakness that emboldens the P.A. and international figures who seek to lessen Israel’s presence in its historic heartland, which is so important for its security.

Furthermore, it emboldens Palestinian militant aspirations and drives Israel further away from ultimate victory over violent rejectionism.

The final lines in this episode have yet to be written, but the balance of power in Judea and Samaria might already have been irrevocably broken.

Alex Nachumson is an IDF Military Commander (Res.) and CEO of Mivtachi Israel, an organization of former senior IDF officers.

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