The “new” Israeli settlement policy unveiled last week by Prime Minister Netanyahu is clearly not new, and is totally incompatible with the serious pursuit of peace and a two-state solution. It is primarily a declaration that the Israeli government intends to continue its current mode of entrenchment and expansion of settlements throughout the West Bank – while hoping that the Trump administration will turn a blind eye.
For weeks, representatives of the Trump administration and the Israeli government have been involved in discussions to come to an understanding about how Israel will restrict settlement construction. But those discussions have been put on hold, for now, without any agreement.
In lieu of a decision to rein in settlements, the Prime Minister is promising to the US administration that his government will act with moderation, without actually taking any moderating steps. He has given no indication that any areas where settlements exist will be out of bounds for new construction or expansion. He has presented no map of which settlements Israel would expect to retain as part of a two-state agreement.
And while the policy reportedly “will not allow the creation of any new illegal outposts,” that hasn’t stopped the Prime Minister from affirming his pledge to build a new settlement as a reward for the evacuated residents of the Amona outpost. It’s not surprising that the “new” policy has been cautiously welcomed by settlement movement leaders, who recognize that it is simply a continuation of the status quo.
President Trump needs to realize that while Prime Minister Netanyahu seeks to placate him publicly, the Israeli leader is continuing on a course that flouts longstanding US policy and is disastrous for both Israelis and Palestinians.
As the President meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi today, he will face a reminder that many Arab leaders are willing to pursue a comprehensive regional peace agreement – but only on the basis of a two-state solution. As long as Israel’s current government continues to obstruct that goal, President Trump’s dreams of “the ultimate deal” will continue to be stymied.