It seems my skepticism that Israel would freeze settlement activity without receiving some sort of valuable 'asset' in return was misplaced. Or was it?
According to Ha'Aretz (thanks to), despite not having officially accepted US demands to a settlement freeze, settlements have actually been frozen with the exception of work on projects which have already begun and continue; something the US has indicated they can live with. According to the article, the Israeli NGO Peace Now appears to concur: "Peace Now confirmed no new tenders had been issued but said more than 1,000 housing units were currently under construction in the West Bank on land Palestinians want for a state."
Apparently, however, that's not the whole story. Peace Now wants Israel to go further than what the US seems to be asking for and insists that even the projects underway be stopped. Furthermore, while Peace Now agrees that no new tenders have been issued by the Israeli government they note that this is a misleading statistic because "...govt sponsored construction of government only constitutes about 40% of all construction in the territories. Most of the building is through private initiatives from settler groups, NGO’s etc. Thus, even if there is a complete freeze of construction bids on behalf of the government – at least 60% of all construction in the settlements continues as before." It would be interesting to know more about what the other 60% of construction is. For example, is it improvements on existing infrastructure, and new roads in existing neighborhoods, or is it new building on previously unused land? The former is quite different from the latter because where in one case increased population--which further complicates matters on the ground--occurs, in the other, repairing already inhabited infrastructure is not worsening the reality.
It is also confusing to hear Peace Now's disappointed rebuttal of the claim of a de facto settlement freeze a la US. This is because according to Peace Now's website "Israeli planning and construction in the West Bank is not treated as just a technical or bureaucratic matter. Rather, it requires the direct involvement of the political echelons of the Israeli government – primarily the Minister of Defense and sometimes the entire cabinet – which must sign off on every stage of a project’s progression." This means either that the 60% of ongoing construction is being approved by the Israeli government despite claims that no new tenders have been issued, or it means that work is continuing illegally without proper authorization or a number of other possible scenarios which are not clear.
It remains to be seen if the US will be satisfied with the factual situation. If so, will they require that Israel declare the settlements frozen, or will they be satisfied with deeds (or lack of deeds) instead of declarations? Also, while I doubt that Israel made the decision not to issue tenders in order to win the good graces of Qatar and Oman, it will be interesting to see if the facts on the ground are good enough for them as well.
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