Israel Election Won't Bring Any Change On Settlements in the West Bank

This week voters in Israel elected Benjamin Netanyahu to lead their country once again. Though support for his major right-wing party has dwindled recently, Netanyahu will have to take on the task of piecing together a new coalition government. While some policies might change over the next four years, one will remain constant: a continuation of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

Netanyahu narrowly won a third term to remain the prime minster of Israel. His Likud Party took 31 of 120 seats. Despite losing 11 of its previous seats, it is still the largest block in parliament. The Israeli right wing still makes up roughly half the total. But even if Netanyahu does make efforts to broaden his coalition with center-left parties, it is highly unlikely that this will change the Israeli policy on settlements in the occupied territories. 

Despite pressure from the Obama administration and the international community, Netanyahu is not likely to back down on settlements anytime soon. During the last four years, his government issued bids for 5,302 settlements apartments in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as advanced planning for thousands more. That is according to Peace Now, a non-governmental activist organization that promotes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

In the past, Netanyahu has accepted, if begrudgingly, a theoretical Palestinian state but never a halt to Israeli settlement construction. He told Israel’s Maariv newspaper last Friday, that "the days when bulldozers uprooted Jews are behind us, not in front of us. Our record proves it." He added that his government has been expanding settlements instead of uprooting them. Last year, Israeli officials took steps to establish the first university in Ariel, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank. 

A continuation of settlement construction over the next four years will only repel meaningful negotiations. Last November, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a new status for the Palestinian Authority, from "non-member observer entity" to "non-member observer state.” The move is more symbolic than anything and gives hope to a two-state solution. As of now, Palestinians are aspiring for a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. 

Just before the elections, Netanyahu told a group of U.S. senators in his Jerusalem office that Iran's nuclear energy program is "the problem of the world" instead of Israeli settlement expansion. But the settlements are creating one of the biggest obstacles for a two-state solution and ultimately a peaceful solution to the conflict. In 2011, Brazil’s ambassador to the UN, Maria Viotti, said that "further settlement construction threatens peace in the region, and that halting construction has been misrepresented as an Israeli concession while in fact international law requires it."

It’s unfortunate that Netanyahu has not made any efforts to revise this detrimental policy. But it’s never too late to change course. After all, who would have thought the Palestinians would reach statehood in the eyes of the UN?