According to recent reports (in the New York Times and The Jewish Week, for example), the Netanyahu government is trying to get the Obama administration into accepting the legitimacy of some West Bank settlement construction.
In essence, they are trying to get the US to resurrect the Bush approach, which – while rejecting all settlement activity in theory – in practice divided settlements into three categories:
1. Unauthorized outposts – shouldn’t be allowed to grow
2. Outlying government-authorized settlements – shouldn’t be allowed to grow too much
3. More established settlements would be allowed their “natural growth”, especially if they’re on the “right” side of the separation barrier.
There’s a well-known (and clearly pre-feminist) story involving George Bernard Shaw that seems applicable. It is said that Shaw once found himself seated beside a woman at a dinner party. “Madam,” he asked, “would you go to bed with me for a thousand pounds?” The woman indignantly shook her head. “For ten thousand pounds?” he asked. “No. I would not.” “Then how about fifty thousand pounds?” he continued. The colossal sum gave the woman pause, and after further reflection, she replied: “Perhaps.”
“And if I were to offer you five pounds?” Shaw asked. “Mr. Shaw!” the woman exclaimed. “What do you take me for!”
“We have already established what you are,” Shaw replied. “Now we are merely haggling over the price.”
Secretary of State Clinton has made clear that, because the US opposes the principle of settlements, all settlement construction must cease, without any exceptions. Netanyahu wants to undermine this principle by playing “Let’s Make a Deal”: We’ll take down a few unauthorized outposts, if you look the other way when we build in Ariel, Elon Moreh and Beit El.
He is trying to get the US to haggle, so that, a la Shaw, he can proclaim: We have already established with Washington that not all settlement is wrong, now we are merely haggling over how much.
But what’s most disturbing of late is how figures from outside the Likud and far right are pledging loyalty to the “natural growth” concept. Labor Party chair and Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, who explained that he was joining the government to keep it from drifting too far right seems to be Netanyahu’s chief ally on this issue; he’ll be promoting the Netanyahu “compromise” when he comes to the US next week.
And President Shimon Peres, who officially represents the great Israeli consensus, educated the ‘novitiate’ Vice President Biden earlier this month, telling him that, “Israel cannot instruct settlers in existing settlements not to have children or get married.”
One of my favorite political columnists, B. (Bet) Micha’el, lampooned Peres’ statement in a recent piece. “Mr. Peres,” he asks sarcastically, “where does it say that young couples must live near their parents? And where does it say that the State’s duty is to supply every young man and woman with a plot of land at their birthplace?” Michael terms Peres’ argument, “demagogic nonsense”.
The problem is that sharp-witted, sardonic writing alone won’t prevent Israel’s government from continuing to pursue this self-destructive path.