As Israel cranks up the heat on Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be cementing his plans to push for annexation of East Jerusalem, but the issue of containing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank has become a major sticking point.
The Israeli prime minister’s popularity has fallen to an all-time low, and the intractable settlements are partly to blame. In January, Netanyahu openly threatened to resign if his current coalition government didn’t pass a law to prevent Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from permitting the new US embassy to open in contested Jerusalem.
Late last month, he amended the law and asked the Knesset to act immediately to stop Abbas from recognizing the unilateral declaration. As Netanyahu said, “The legislation is not only necessary to prevent this, but it is also of vital national security importance.”
A day later, at a joint press conference with US President Donald Trump, he said the US aid to Palestinians would now include U.S. guarantees that the money would only go to security and economic projects rather than to the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu’s supporters are claiming the legislation would improve Israeli security. But critics have called it a political stunt because it continues to allow settlements to take up roughly a quarter of the West Bank, and would force Israeli troops to remain stationed in East Jerusalem, a sensitive political issue. The settlement issue is hampering peace talks with Abbas.
Last month, Netanyahu threatened that the Israelis might need to annex the West Bank territory to gain peace with the Palestinians. An annexation would face a legal challenge in the International Court of Justice, and many countries oppose it on humanitarian grounds.
It remains unclear whether Netanyahu has the support to push his plan through his right-wing coalition government.
Defenders of settlement construction in the West Bank, who make up about a third of the Knesset, say that there is no need to comply with international law by leaving areas like Ramallah open to Palestinian development. They say Israel would get rid of the settlers if it makes concessions to the Palestinians.
Reporter Ryan Medley is a regular contributor to the Jerusalem Post, the US Department of State, the Jerusalem Post and Gulf News.