Israelis announce expansion of settlements ahead of talks

posted at 12:31 pm on August 11, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

So how are those Israeli-Palestinian talks proceeding?  This well:

Israel said on Sunday it was marketingnearly 1,200 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, just two days before a planned release of long-serving Palestinian prisoners. …

Israeli media, in unconfirmed reports, have suggested Sunday’s housing plans were disclosed to Washington in advance and had been aimed partly at overcoming opposition within the pro-settlement cabinet to the prisoner releases.

Israelis have been angered by the large prisoner releases in deals cut with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.  The trade for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit prompted widespread outrage, with its thousand-to-one ratio. My friend Richard Wittman, director of Strategic Development for the Knesset Forum, wrote a lengthy op-ed in the Jerusalem Post demanding an end to these “goodwill measures,” as it produces good will in one direction only.  Over 180 Israelis have been murdered by prisoners released in these deals, and it has become a real political problem for the Netanyahu government, while until now the trades have been relatively low-cost for the Palestinians.

Perhaps this is a way for Netanyahu to change the calculus a bit.  If each of these lopsided trades end up expanding settlements by a larger number than the prisoners released, then perhaps the PA will reconsider its demands, although it won’t have any impact at all on Hamas.  If that’s the strategy,  the Palestinian Authority isn’t walking away from the talks over it — at least so far:

While condemning settlement expansion, Palestinians have stopped short of threatening outright to abandon the peace negotiations, which are due to go into a second round on Wednesday in Jerusalem after a session in Washington.

“The international community must stand with this peace process and must stand shoulder to shoulder with us and hold Israel accountable for its continuing settlement activities,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

“Continuing settlement activity means dictations not negotiations,” he said.

It also serves as a bit of a rebuke to the White House and John Kerry.  Earlier this summer, Reuters reported that Israel had agreed to pre-1967 borders as a condition for the talks, a rumor that clearly didn’t come from the Israelis and had people accusing Netanyahu of giving away the store.  Netanyahu has every reason to act aggressively to push back against these clumsy attempts to push negotiations forward, and that may be effective even if not one of these apartments ever gets past the drawing board.


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