It must be said that Benjamin Netanyahu has learned a little from Barack Obama. True, the Israeli prime minister has been remarkably slow in grasping that when the U.S. president says he wants a freeze on settlement building, he means a freeze. But at least Netanyahu has learned that the way to reframe your foreign policy is to give a big, well-publicized speech at a university campus.
So on Sunday, June 14, Netanyahu will speak at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. I can't guess what the prime minister will say. But here's one thing he absolutely shouldn't say: "Construction must continue in settlements to accommodate natural growth." If he does make this argument, no one should take it seriously. It's built on layers of myth and misconceptions.
Let's take them one by one.
[see the article for the stuff in the middle -inh]
#5: It's OK to build inside existing settlements. Recently, Israeli officials have claimed that there was an understanding, partly oral, with the Bush administration that construction could continue within or next to the built-up areas of settlements. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says there's no record of such an agreement. The kindest reading of the dispute is that what Washington saw as a discussion, Jerusalem interpreted as an agreement.
But if former President George W. Bush did agree to building within existing settlements, he didn't grasp the issue. One reason for building is to increase the size of settlements, and therefore the area that Israel will keep. Another is to increase the number of people in settlements, so that evacuation looks more difficult. Building within the existing area of settlements doesn't serve the first purpose -- but it serves the second purpose well.
The bottom line is that all settlement construction is political. The "natural growth" argument is a ruse meant to disguise the real goal: determining the future of the territory before anyone has a chance to negotiate. If Netanyahu has really learned something from recent tensions, he won't repeat the ruse in his speech on Sunday.
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