By Stephen M. Flatow/JNS.org
The Trump administration is pressuring Israel for further delays in the construction of Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria, according to apparently reliable media reports. If true, friends of Israel have good reason to be concerned.
Ynet, the news site of the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, reported Sept. 25 that “at the request of the Trump administration,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has delayed a meeting of the government committee responsible for construction in the territories. The meeting is necessary to proceed with construction projects that are in various stages of completion.
The actual delay of the meeting is not the biggest problem, assuming that the meeting is held sometime in the weeks ahead. But the principle at stake is a very big problem.
The reason, according to Ynet, is that Trump administration envoys will be meeting soon with Palestinian Authority (PA) officials. In other words, the administration is falling into the old Obama-era pattern of trying to appease Palestinian leaders by demanding unilateral Israeli concessions.
This administration’s rhetoric on these issues is, of course, a welcome change from that of its predecessor. Friends of Israel appreciate the fact that the Trump administration has, for example, declined to embrace Palestinian statehood as the only solution to the conflict.
And clearly the administration has refrained from picking the kind of ugly public fights with Israel over Judea and Samaria construction that President Barack Obama and company were constantly provoking. But if public quarrels have simply been replaced with private pressure, that’s not really much of an improvement.
We all remember the Trump-Netanyahu press conference back on Feb. 15, when the president said, “I would like you to hold back on settlements for a little bit.” Many of us immediately asked: Why? Jewish settlements in the historic Jewish homeland are legal, peaceful, and deeply anchored in the Judeo-Christian heritage that is cherished by Israelis and Americans alike.
Moreover, settlements have nothing to do with the Israeli-Arab conflict. The Palestinians and other Arabs were making war on Israel long before there were any settlements. They were waging that war before the Jewish state even existed. The idea that “holding back” on settlements would somehow promote peace is, to put it politely, nonsense. We expected the new administration would understand those basic facts.
And what exactly is “a little bit?” Weeks? Months? Years? How long should basic Jewish rights be “held back” in order to appease a PA regime that glorifies terrorists and incites its people to hatred and violence against Jews?
On March 31, there was more worrisome news. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that Netanyahu told is security cabinet that in response to “the president’s requests,” Israel would “curb construction” in Judea and Samaria. Henceforth it would be restricted to “existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them.”
An unnamed White House official confirmed to Ha’aretz that President Donald Trump is demanding that Israel take his “concerns into consideration.” The official said, “While the existence of settlements is not itself an impediment peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace.”
The White House official is wrong. Accelerated Jewish construction in the territories would, in fact, help advance peace. It would send a message to the PA that it cannot succeed in terrorizing Israel into retreat and submission. It would force the PA to face the fact that Israel will not agree to the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Judea and Samaria. And forcing the Palestinians to face reality is the only chance for making them give up their violence and extremism, and finally make peace with Israel.
The Trump administration’s pressure on Israel to restrict Judea and Samaria construction therefore is both wrong as a matter of principle, and harmful to the possibility of achieving authentic peace. Candidate Trump was right to criticize the Obama policy of publicly pressuring Israel; but if President Trump is continuing any of that policy behind closed doors, it’s just as bad.
Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.