Guardian Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont interpreted the new Israeli government policy on settlement construction, announced on Friday, thusly:
The headline is consistent with the thrust of the March 31st article, which begins:
Israel has indicated it will pursue a unilateral policy of largely unconstrained settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, as it announced the first new settlement in two decades.
While Israel’s new settlement construction guidelines were presented as evidence of restraint and a “goodwill gesture” to the administration of US President Donald Trump – who has asked Israel to slow construction – the details seem to indicate the opposite.
However, the new policy on settlements wasn’t just “presented” by the Israeli government as “evidence of restraint” , but also by Barak Ravid, the diplomatic correspondent for the staunchly anti-Netanyahu paper Haaretz. On March 31st, Ravid published two articles on the new settlement announcement: An article titled “Netanyahu Announces Policy of Restrained Settlement Construction in ‘Show of Good Will’ to Trump”, and an analysis titled “Israel’s Most Right-wing Cabinet Ever Curbs Settlement Construction – but the Settlers Keep Mum”.
Ravid’s verdict on the announcement is clear – arguing that it represents a significant limit on construction across the green line. Here are some excerpts:
Israel will adopt a policy of limiting new construction in West Bank settlements to within the boundaries of areas that have already been built upon or in some specific cases precisely adjacent to them, Prime Minister Netanyahu said at a security cabinet meeting late Thursday night
Netanyahu said he had decided to respond to U.S. President Donald Trump’s reservations regarding the settlements by unilaterally adopting a policy of restrained construction that will almost exclusively include building in already-developed areas of existing settlements to avoid appropriating new land or expanding the territory of established settlements.
Another senior source who also requested to remain anonymous said Netanyahu told the cabinet ministers that out of consideration for Trump’s positions, Israel will take significant steps to reduce, in so much as possible, the expansion of existing settlement territory beyond already-developed areas and that this too would be significantly restricted to allow for the progress of a peace process.
When the settlers and their supporters woke up, they discovered that while they slept, Netanyahu and the members of the most right-wing security cabinet in Israeli history decided to voluntarily impose limitations on construction in the settlements
At the end of the security cabinet meeting Thursday night, it turned out that all the celebrations, hopes and expectations of the right that Trump would be the Messiah heralding the vision of the “Greater Land of Israel” had shattered against reality.
Here are excerpts from Ravid’s analysis:
…considering the fact that the Israeli government is under the full control of the settler lobby, and given the fact that the White House is now home to Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress is completely in the hands of the GOP – the decision by the security cabinet was no less than astonishing.
The security cabinet decision to rein in construction in the West Bank and the justifications Netanyahu used to convince his ministers to agree to it, made it clear that even in the Trump era, the policy on settlements construction is set by the White House and not in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Trump, who is determined and personally committed to try and achieve a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians does not want the settlements to interfere in his achieving the ultimate deal.
The security cabinet decision will not bring about a freeze of construction in the settlements, but will significantly slow down the planning and building processes, reduce the number of new housing units and limit their spread in the West Bank. Under the new policy, the planning committee of the Israel Defense Forces’ Civil Administration in the West Bank, the body that approves construction plans for the settlements, will now meet only once every three months instead of once a week. All that Netanyahu and Lieberman will have to do in order to delay construction is to cancel the committee’s meeting once every three months, using some technical justification or another.
the new policy will not allow the annexation of settlements to Israel, won’t allow construction in the controversial E1 area connecting Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem, or allow the legalization of unauthorized outposts and turning them into new settlements.
Haaretz’s take was echoed by The Washington Post (“Netanyahu to slow down settlement activity in effort to appease Trump”) and Associated Press (“Israel says will try to curb growth of settlement footprint”).
Moreover, as Raphael Ahren, diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel, astutely observed, “reining in settlement construction is actually in line with Netanyahu’s strategic and ideological outlook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. Ahern added that “despite his public comments, [Netanyahu] is no advocate of unfettered settlement growth”. Indeed, the caricature of the prime minister’s putatively far-right views on the issue have been contradicted by data indicating that the rate of settlement construction was actually lower under Netanyahu than under his predecessors.
Whilst it won’t become clear for quite a while if the new guidelines will result in a continuation of this construction slow-down, it’s quite a commentary when far-left Haaretz frames the settlement policy of a ‘far right’ Israeli government far more sympathetically than the Guardian.