Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shown here at a press conference, announced plans to build on new settlements today. (Image Source: Reuters)
There has been significant progress in peace talks between the Israeli government and Palestinians, despite some great difficulty over several key matters. However, many are speculating that the talks could yield actual results for the first time since the Israeli government unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005. Still, the Israeli government seems to know how to shoot its own foot at times, even when they think it is in their best interest to do so. Today, the Israeli government announced new building permits for settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The West Bank, which remains occupied by the Israeli government, has seen a massive increase in settlements, both legal and illegal, since the Israelis withdrew from Gaza Strip. As a consequence, the territory is littered with checkpoints and security barriers intended to protect Israelis and keep Palestinians out, and most of what is supposed to be Palestinian land has been taken over either by Israeli officials, or sneaky settlers who seek to expand on their land. In addition, East Jerusalem, a half of the holy city that has been claimed by Palestinians as their capital, is occupied by the Israeli military, and the surrounding area is almost entirely claimed by settlements. Most of the world considers all this illegal, and the peace talks will likely be damaged by these developments.
In all fairness, the Israeli government is doing so to cover its flank against a major interest: The settlers themselves. The Israeli settlers have taken a hard line against the peace process, which many suspect will include land swaps that will uproot some settlers and regular Israelis. They have also been hostile to the release of Palestinian prisoners as the prerequisite to start the current peace talks. Israel's new building permits for settlements are essentially an attempt to placate the settlers in the government, while keeping a leash on them by keeping it limited to existing settlements only.
Still, it is kind of preposterous that Israel fails to understand the damage they cause by even giving an inch to the settlers. To Palestinians, the settlements represent a continuation of their suffering, and gives them a somewhat justified excuse to terrorize Israelis. Helping those settlers gives Palestinians a reason to give up on peace. Still, how this will affect the Peace Process remains to be seen.