True to his word, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allowed the self-imposed Jewish building freeze in Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”) to lapse and for approved construction projects there to resume.
Work began on Monday on at least 2,000 new housing units and a number of new schools in Jewish communities throughout the territories the Palestinians claim for their future state.
Netanyahu had been under heavy pressure to extend the freeze, and has been doing his best to keep a low profile both for himself and for Israel since the freeze expired on Sunday.
But that hasn’t stopped the world from moaning.
According to government sources cited by The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu was on the phone non-stop on Monday to listen to the complaints and expressions of disappointment from world leaders.
“The United States is disappointed, but we remain focused on our long-term objective and will be talking to the parties about the implications of the Israeli decision,” said US State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement insisting that “settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory [sic], including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, and urges Israel to fulfill its…obligation to freeze settlement activity.”
[Ed. Note - It is a common misconception fueled by inaccurate reporting and outright misinformation by world leaders that Israel has ever agreed to totally halt Jewish growth in Judea and Samaria. While Israel has agreed not to build new Jewish towns in those areas, every prime minister has carefully stipulated that natural growth in existing towns must be allowed.]
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “very concerned that talks could falter on this issue and I call on Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government to show leadership to resolve this so the parties can focus on the real challenges ahead.”
European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton reiterated that the body she represents views Jewish homes on those ancient Jewish lands as “illegal under international law, constituting an obstacle to peace and threatening to make a two-state solution impossible.”
Israeli officials tried in vain to get the international community to see things in context.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was adamant that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ threat to quit the negotiations over the resumption of Jewish construction is a ruse, an excuse to avoid a peace deal he never intended to sign or honor.
The Palestinians “refused to accept the gesture of the [Jewish building] moratorium for nine months,” Lieberman told reporters in New York, referring to the fact that Israel imposed the freeze in November 2009 as a means of enticing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Abbas rejected the gesture up until the end of last month, and then demanded it be extended indefinitely.
For Lieberman, that is evidence that the Palestinians did not enter the negotiations in good faith.
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom added that “no demand like this was ever presented to any prime minister in the past, and it did not disrupt negotiations. If the Palestinians leave the talks, it will be clear that it is just an excuse.”
The US Congress appeared to be taking Israel’s side.
The journal Foreign Policy reported that a letter signed by 87 out of 100 US senators was sent to US President Barack Obama this week urging him to press Abbas hard to remain at the negotiating table, and praising Netanyahu for having done so even when Israeli civilians were murdered in brutal acts of Palestinian terrorism on the very day the negotiations resumed in Washington.
“Neither side should make threats to leave just as the talks are getting started,” the senators wrote.
Meanwhile, Abbas has backed down from his threat to immediately suspend negotiations, and has said he will give Israel another week to reinstate the Jewish building freeze, which in the Palestinians’ eyes must also include Jerusalem.