NYT got it wrong: PM opposed bill in order to expand settlements

Netanyahu is not hiding his commitment to expanding settlements – he is making it loud and clear. The New York Times didn’t seem to hear.

Given relatively sparse international coverage of the Knesset vote yesterday rejecting a bill that would have legalized West Bank settlements facing legal challenges (specifically, the Ulpana Hill of Beit El), it was particularly disappointing to see the New York Times offer one of the few editorials on the topic – and get it so completely wrong.  This line from the first paragraph exemplifies the problem:

There may be some glimmer of hope in Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to support an Israeli Supreme Court order to close an illegal neighborhood, known as Ulpana, in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

After a mild paragraph duly observing that Netanyahu still supports settlements, the article insists on viewing the developments as a sign that Netanyahu might yet try to rein them in once he has finished “mollifying” the hard-liners:

Mr. Netanyahu should promptly implement the court decision on Ulpana. For the sake of peace, he should go a lot further and declare a cessation in all settlement activity and invite the Palestinians for serious talks.

In my experience, it is unusual for the Times to have missed the major story altogether, but this is simply the case. Whether or not one is for or against settlements, it is a flat-out factual mistake to read the vote as a question of whether Netanyahu is discouraging settlement construction or encouraging peace.

I wrote about this earlier, but let me make it extremely clear: Netanyahu’s commitment to rejecting the bill was not a statement against settlements. The vote was not about narrowing construction. And personally, I do not believe it was about implementing Supreme Court rulings either.

The events of the last few days – the committee debates, the Knesset vote on Wednesday and Netanyahu’s compromise plan – were about one thing only: Settlement expansion.

The bill was about whether to expand settlements using the grab-and-build policy of rogue settlers. Netanyahu’s compromise plan was about developing “responsible adult” state approval for all future settlement expansion, under the guise of a new mechanism to prevent future legal challenges – a new ministerial committee to be  headed by the right wing of a right-wing government (Netanyahu, instead of Ehud Barak). The prime minister’s plan now includes flat-out bribes in the form of 851 new settlement units, a figure that ballooned from the original talk of 300, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers/sweeteners continue to climb in the coming days.

The entire debate over the “Settlement Arrangement” bill served one purpose: to provide a platform for Mr. Netanyahu to declare far and wide his total commitment to settlement expansion, day after day, and prove it with ever-increasing concessions to the settlers (which are not really concessions, because he’s on their side). After all, he has the perfect excuse: he must appease the far right.

This analysis is no wild-eyed radical-left reading of the situation. It’s just a matter of listening to the prime minister himself (from the video embedded in this article, my translation):

I am obliged to protect democracy, and I am obliged to protect the settlements. And I say to you now that there is no contradiction between the two. The law that was rejected in the Knesset would have harmed the settlements. By contrast, the framework I have I decided upon, expanding the settlement, relocating the buildings, legal defense of settlements against a precedent – this plan strengthens settlements….At the same time, Beit El will be expanded, the 30 families will remain and 300 families will join them…Those who think they can use the legal system to harm settlements are mistaken. In fact, the exact opposite is happening – instead of decreasing Beit El, the expansion Beit El. Instead of harming settlements, strengthening them.

It isn’t hard to hear precisely to what the prime minister is saying in plain Hebrew. I wish the New York Times had listened before grossly misrepresenting the developments as a “glimmer of hope” for anyone seeking peace.