Ben Lynfield: Condemnation will fail to move Netanyahu

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SEEN from Brussels or London, strong condemnation such as that voiced last week by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and fourteen of the fifteen UN security council representatives, including Britain, might seem an appropriate response to Israel’s planned settlement onslaught in and around Arab East Jerusalem.

This time the drive is much more than a question of more trailers on hilltops. Because of the sensitivity of the areas targeted, it seems likely to foreclose the possibility of a two state compromise solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

Seen from Jerusalem, however, it is sheer folly to think that declarations – without the readiness to back them up with economic and political steps – can dissuade prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the largest settlement push in more than three decades in the area Palestinians envision as their future capital. Condemnations such as Lady Ashton’s statement that the EU “particularly opposes the implementation of plans which seriously undermine” the two state solution and the British display of ire at the UN security council, where the certainty of a US veto forestalled the actual tabling of a resolution, actually help Mr Netanyahu achieve his current primary political objective: pulling votes for next month’s election away from the ardently pro-settler Jewish Home party.

“Netanyahu wants to come across to religious right-wing voters who haven’t made up their minds yet as a man of courage willing to stand up to anyone for the sake of the settlement project,” says Bradley Burston, a columnist for Haaretz.

Last week, Mr Netanyahu claimed he is just doing what all Israeli governments have done: building in Israel’s capital. But the 2,612 units approved for the new settlement of Givat HaMatos on Wednesday, along with other settlement plans approved since the Palestinians gained statehood recognition at the UN, cut the capital of that envisioned state in East Jerusalem off from its hinterland in the West Bank.

The EU, Britain included, is well aware of this. But despite it being Israel’s largest trading partner and the signatory to cherished association agreements, the picture that emerges thus far is that there is no bite to the bark. Tellingly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently at a press conference with Mr Netanyahu that the two countries would “agree to disagree’’ over the settlements issue.

Mr Netanyahu at the moment can only assume that there is no real price to wooing the far-right and indulging his own nationalistic world view that does not allow for sharing Jerusalem with a viable Palestinian state.