I don’t support the settlements*, but this is ridiculous.
I’m referring to the ever-increasing manipulation of the settlement issue to justify hatred of Israel, and even to legitimize terror attacks against Israeli citizens. I disagree with settlement construction in the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem at such a sensitive time, but those practices do not make murder acceptable.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval of new settlement construction in East Jerusalem is almost certainly not meant to provoke Palestinian ire, although it has obviously had that effect. He is trying to appease the radical right wing members of his party, and the still more radically right wing members of his coalition, after he put his own political career at stake by opting, for the sake of preserving both Israeli and Palestinian lives, not to reoccupy the Gaza Strip during this summer’s escalation.
While this construction sparks legitimate frustration among peace activists, myself included, it is a nonviolent way to pacify those right wing political players, and since there is a historical precedent for uprooting significant Israeli settlements successfully (in both the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip) and since the land swaps for a final agreement have already been more or less delineated, the long-term, practical impact of such a move is almost negligible. Personally, I do not believe that the right wing need be heeded at all, but the political circumstances are such that Netanyahu does. That being the case, I admire the prime minister’s attempts to minimize casualties on all sides, despite the undeniable detriment that such care has had on his likelihood of maintaining his position as head of Likud and of avoiding replacement in the fast-approaching primary election by either Likud Central Committee Chairman Danny Danon or MK Moshe Feiglin, neither of whom would be likely to sacrifice nearly as much as Netanyahu already has for peace.
Furthermore, in my view, the idea that settlement construction is part of an Israeli government plot to take over Palestinian land in support of a long-term “greater Israel” strategy is a construct that conveniently fits into a cynical narrative, but is not based in fact. The new construction in particular is in already heavily Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, deliberately selected because they so closely hug the border of West Jerusalem. Consequently, such new construction (within already established communities) would rarely pose even a mild inconvenience to citizens of a future Palestinian state.
In a more general sense, Israel has not built any new Jewish communities in the West Bank since the 1993 Oslo Accords. Because post-Oslo settlement construction is restricted to the area within pre-existing settlements, which constitute a mere 1.7% of the West Bank (according to the Middle East Media Research Institute), the reality is that no more of that territory has been settled by Israelis since the early 1990s. While I consider almost all settlement construction to be harmful, the Israeli government has made a powerful effort to conduct it in ways that are the least harmful to the peace process and to the Palestinian people.
Again, I do not believe that Israel should be allowing this construction, as limited as it is, because it clearly does offend many Palestinians, and thus deepens the rift between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples still further. I would never advocate for more settlement construction, because I sincerely do believe that it creates unnecessary tension and is therefore detrimental to the peace process. That does not mean, however, that it is acceptable to manipulate the settlement issue to contrive unfounded myths of conspiracy, as has often been done, and it certainly does not mean that terror can be justified. I take issue with anyone who would suggest that Israeli settlement construction legitimizes attacks like the one that left five innocent people dead only a couple of days ago.
*I am not an Israeli citizen, and I do not have the right to critique the Israeli government in the way that Israeli citizens do. Nevertheless, I do have the right to constructively contribute to the dialogue about issues of Israeli policy and to share my perspective with Israeli voters, who may take that perspective into account only to the degree that they deem fit as they exercise their democratic rights. It should also be noted that, although I do not always support all of Israel’s policies, I am a consistent and passionate advocate for Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself.