from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Facts on the Ground: the Israeli Settlement Slowdown

June 19, 2014

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Criticism of construction in Israeli settlements has grown in the last five years, not least in Washington--but in this same period Israel has been focusing more and more of the construction in less and less of the West Bank. In a new article at the Foreign Affairs web site entitled "Facts on the Ground: Inside Israel’s Settlement Slowdown," Uri Sadot and I explain the story Here are some excerpts:

Under Netanyahu’s current government, construction outside the so-called major settlement blocs -- the areas most likely to remain part of Israel in a final peace settlement -- has steadily decreased. Over the past five years, the number of homes approved for construction in the smaller settlements has amounted to half of what it was during Netanyahu’s first premiership in 1996–99. Moreover, the homes the government is now approving for construction are positioned further west, mostly in the major blocs or in areas adjacent to the so-called Green Line, the de facto border separating Israel from the West Bank. The 1,500 units that Israel announced plans for earlier this month were also in the major blocs and in East Jerusalem, continuing the pattern...

Israeli construction is now concentrated in Jerusalem and the major blocs -- in the two percent of the West Bank territory that the Palestinian leadership was apparently willing to accept as Israeli in 2008.

The Israelis are still constructing beyond the security fence and in areas inside the fence that will undoubtedly be hotly contested in any future negotiation over a final agreement. But there is a paradox in the increasingly frequent denunciations of Israeli construction in the United States and Europe: they are coming at the same time as Israeli construction has become increasingly limited to areas that even Palestinians acknowledge will ultimately remain part of Israel.

Accusations that Netanyahu is reluctant to negotiate for peace bury the true headline: that his government has unilaterally reduced Israeli settlement construction and largely constrained it to a narrow segment of territory.... Israel is still constructing, but not in a way that will prevent a realistic peace settlement.

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