Netanyahu's Israeli settlement push could be ballot box boon

JERUSALEM Tue Dec 4, 2012 9:20am EST

1 of 2. A view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim (front) is seen near Jerusalem December 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - For Benjamin Netanyahu, plans to expand Israeli settlements may risk a diplomatic crisis with Europe but could prove a good bet at the ballot box.

With a January 22 election looming, the Israeli leader has defied long-standing international opposition to settlements and announced plans to build at least 3,000 more homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem after the United Nations' de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Standing up to Europe, where a string of Israeli diplomats were summoned for reprimands by the governments of Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark on Monday, could help cement right-wing voter support for the conservative prime minister.

"We feared that politicians would clamber over themselves to show who could be tougher with the Palestinians. However we had hoped that Netanyahu would show more restraint. It didn't happen," said a Western diplomat in Jerusalem.

"We did not want the Palestinians to go to the United Nations during an Israeli election campaign precisely for this reason," the diplomat said.

Israel rebuffed European protests and appeals to reverse course on the settlement drive, saying it would "stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure".

Settlement projects on land Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War are considered illegal by most world powers and have routinely drawn condemnation from them. Some 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But this time, the government also ordered new "planning work" in one of the most highly sensitive areas of the West Bank known as "E1". Israeli housing on its barren hills could split the West Bank in two, denying the Palestinians a viable state.

Many Israelis have traditionally viewed the United Nations and many European governments as being particularly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

And in an aside by Netanyahu during a visit to the United States, Israel's main ally, he appeared to indicate he shared those sentiments.

"Americans get it," he said, referring to arguments he has made in support of his government's policies. "Europeans don't."

That has not always been the case as far as U.S. President Barack Obama is concerned, particularly on the settlement issue and the open question of whether Israel might attack Iran's nuclear program in defiance of Washington's calls to give diplomatic options more time.

But Obama has never been at the top of Israelis' popularity lists and friction between the two leaders seems not to have hurt Netanyahu in the opinion polls, which predict he will coast to victory in the upcoming ballot.


Tamir Sheafer, a political scientist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said Netanyahu's settlement move was "what his voters expect of him" and stemmed from internal political considerations.

"Maybe they are worried in (Netanyahu's) Likud that right-wing voters will opt instead for (the far-right religious)Habayit Hayehudi party," Sheafer said.

So far, European anger over the settlement plan has not led to any sanctions against Israel. Any punitive measures before the election would fuel arguments made by Netanyahu's political opponents that he was deepening its diplomatic isolation.

"I think there are electoral considerations (behind Netanyahu's settlement moves)," said Gideon Rahat, a Hebrew University political scientist. "But he's also used to (Europe and the United States) not bothering him much and now they seem to have changed the rules of the game."

Still, Sheafer said, "something very unusual or unexpected would have to happen for the next government not to be headed by Netanyahu - it's very simple mathematics, the center-left simply doesn't have enough parliamentary seats" to form a coalition.

With details of the future settler housing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem still sketchy and Israeli officials saying any construction in E1 would be more than a year away, Israel and Europe still have room to maneuver.

"We don't know where these units will be built. I don't think anyone knows. They are probably scurrying around now trying to figure out where they will be built," said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli expert on settlements.

"This announcement was made for dramatic effect. That doesn't mean it won't happen, it means the dramatic effect precedes the decision," Seidemann said.

Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister who is running in the upcoming poll as the head of a new centrist party, said in a statement that Netanyahu's settlement move "isolates Israel and encourages international pressure".

But she also appeared to suggest that Netanyahu might be bluffing.

"In any case (the construction) won't happen," she said.

(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer and Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (8)
moweddell wrote:
What did everyone think would happen? It is the responsibility of the leaders of Israeli citizens to fully represent their best interests. This includes border protection, freedom from invasion by Iran or its nuclear weapons and allies, growth via territorial expansion for its citizens in areas achieved by conquest from enemies who declared war on them, elimination of terrorism, preservation of their heritage and religion, etc…The “European” countries have their own problems with islamists and themselves unable to resolve them. Why look or listen to them for solutions? Europeans are greatly anti semitic and even anti American and their opinions should be avoided. Perhaps more support should be for Isreal by everyone worldwide. Thuis would pressure the Islamists and “Palestinians” lead by terrorists groups into proper civilized behavior.

Dec 04, 2012 9:55am EST  --  Report as abuse
bobber1956 wrote:
To even suggest someone be tried for defending their own homeland and citizens is insane. Whether US would back Israel or not is irrelevant (and if we do not obama should be impeached) it is Iran’s leadership that is throwing its own citizens over a cliff for not complying with UN sanctions and continuing to threaten a Nation with destruction and a People with genocide. Lets face it, Israel has done NOTHING outside its own borders unless attacked first. Theirs is a defensive position…until someone starts dropping bombs and missiles on them.

Dec 04, 2012 10:06am EST  --  Report as abuse
C-Tech wrote:
In the interest of correcting people’s understanding of the history of the land that is modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories…

Canaan is the oldest name associated with the specific region, which had earlier comprised the long-contested border between the Egyptian and Hittite empires. There is little verifiable history that has been found concerning the area, but most of what does exist confirms an ancient Semetic culture with common leadership that existed on this particular land. They called themselves Israelites, and utilized Hebrew as their spoken and written language.

Therefore, you see, it is not the Israelis who occupy and develop “Palestinian land”, but Palestinians who occupy what was originally – and continues to be – an Israeli nation.

Of course, many people who support the Palestinian cause will blindly deny this. That’s why it’s more meaningful to make claims supported by evidence which can be independently verified by anyone, regardless of bias. Game, set, match.

Dec 04, 2012 10:15am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.