Elliott Abrams writes about the latest Obama administration snit about Israel building fewer than 300 units in Ariel in the West Bank:
The new units are to be constructed in the center of the town, it was also announced. This is a significant fact, for construction of new units at the edges of the town would mean that the security perimeter would need to be extended to protect the new housing and the people in it. But this will not happen, and Ariel will expand in population but not in land area. It is not, in the usual Palestinian Authority parlance, “taking more Palestinian land.” . . . .
[The Bush administration] understood that there would never be a long construction freeze even if there might be some brief ones, for the settlements — especially the “major blocks” that Israel will keep — are living communities with growing families. So we reached that understanding with the Israelis: build up and in, not out. That way whatever the chances of a peace deal were, construction in the settlements would not reduce them.
This agreement the Obama Administration ignored or denounced, suggesting at various times that it never existed or that, anyway, it had been a bad idea and all construction must be frozen — even in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. . . .This Obama fixation with a construction freeze proved disastrous because the president and his secretary of state took the view that it was a precondition for negotiations without which the Palestinians could not be expected to come to the table.
I was in Ariel earlier this year. As I reported then:
This is literally the center of Israel, the point midway on both the north-south axis and the east-west axis. The town is home to a university and 20,000 other residents, including a group of those uprooted from Gaza when Israel withdrew. They live there in makeshift trailers, but, with the settlement freeze lifted, work can continue on their homes. However, the trailer encampment has been a political eyesore — a reminder that promises of “relocating” settlers are less than meets the eye. The university has approximately 9,000 undergraduate students; it also has 1,000 candidates for master of science degrees, and about 100 are pursuing PhDs. The head of the university, like many faculty members, is a Russian émigré. He arrived in 1992 when there were 200 students.
So a few additional points are in order. Although I am not certain, the “new houses” are probably the fixed replacements (partially built when I was there) for the rickety trailers that have housed Israelis previously uprooted from Gaza. Not only would this, as Abrams explains, not be encroaching on additional land, it is a positive symbol that if settlers cooperate with relocation plans they can set up homes elsewhere.
Moreover, the obsession of the Obama government apparently means that even if you don’t really add (even “up and in,” as the Bush administration agreed) but instead replace and/or upgrade decrepit housing that too is unacceptable. One wonders if anyone in the administration has been to Ariel recently or even would acknowledge that Ariel is a major Jewish community that would not under any feasible scenario be transferred to the Palestinians in a final settlement.
But none of this matters. The administration operates by rote. This administration has decreed that there is a “violation of international law and a threat to a peace agreement every time bricks and studs and drywall show up at the center of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.” Hence, the Armistice line of 1949 becomes “1967 borders” and the Bush-Sharon letters (which memorialized the U.S.-Israeli understanding) go down the memory hole. And what does Obama have to show for it? A destroyed peace process, the distrust of both parties and an international confrontation at the United Nations.
There could be no better example of this president’s self-defeating and peace-defeating mentality than Ariel.