The path to a lasting peace is being bricked over:
In 2017, 3,154 tenders were issued, up from just 42 during Obama's final year in office. In 2018, that number rose to over 3,800, the highest number by far since Peace Now started compiling the data in 2002. This sets the stage for a huge jump in construction in the near future.
"There's definitely a change of atmosphere. There's definitely a change of winds," said Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat, a major settlement near Jerusalem, and the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha settlement council. Revivi said that Obama pressured Israel into greatly curtailing settlement activity. Now, he said, Israel is trying to make up for lost time.
There was a lot going on during the Obama administration to bring some sort of agreement to the table over this problem, and we came tantalizingly close in 2014:
The closed-door negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over the future contours of a Palestinian state, and how much land and settlements Israel will retain, have reportedly come down to a matter of a few percentage points, with both sides agreeing in principle that the majority of Jewish West Bank settlements would be transferred to Israeli sovereignty in a final status deal.
Citing anonymous Israeli, Palestinian and American sources close to the negotiations, Walla News reported on Thursday that Israel is seeking to annex about 10 percent of the West Bank’s land area in a final deal.
Both sides have reportedly agreed that the settlements that lie more or less along the 1967 border will be annexed by Israel, as will Givat Ze’ev, just north of Jerusalem. More-isolated Jewish settlements, such as Beit El, Ofra and others in the Samaria region, are not slated to be annexed, but Israel is reportedly seeking a long-term lease agreement for those communities.
The report did not touch on the issue of East Jerusalem, which Israel formally annexed in 1980, a move not recognized by the international community. The Palestinians seek to create their capital in the eastern part of the city, but the area is also home to several large Jewish neighborhoods, such as Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa, which Israel is unlikely to consider parting with.
The future of settlements such as Ariel and Karnei Shomron in the northern West Bank is unclear, as the Palestinians are said to be extremely opposed to their annexation by Israel. It is supremely important for the PA to create “a contiguous Palestinian state” with sensible borders, and it will not agree to “a state whose map will be broken,” according to sources cited in the report.
That deal would not have included towns like Ofra (pictured above), which is deeper inside the West Bank. Such towns would have fallen under Palestinian authority if they wanted to stay. But that was then, and this is now:
For decades, a string of U.S. presidents, both Republican and Democrat, condemned settlement construction.
Things quickly changed when Trump took office. Trump refused to condemn settlement construction and surrounded himself with advisers — including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman — who are Orthodox Jews with close ties to settlements. Trump at times has asked Israel to show restraint, but his administration has remained largely silent as Israel has pressed ahead with its construction efforts over the past two years.
This has been welcome news to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose outgoing coalition is dominated by religious and nationalist settlement sympathizers. Favored to win re-election in April, Netanyahu has said he expects his next government to look very similar.