The Israeli human rights group, Bimkom, has revealed that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has authorized the drawing up of plans for 300 new apartment units in the West Bank.
Such new building would be a slap in the face to the Obama administration under any circumstances. But the fact that the units are planned not for an authorized settlement (i.e., one which is legal under Israeli law, but, like all
Obama may not be feeling quite so chummy with Barak these days
settlements, remains illegal under international law), but for an “illegal outpost” doubles the insult.
The 300 units are planned for the outpost of Givat Habrecha, near the settlement of Talmon. Talmon itself was set up only in 1994, so it’s pretty hard to see where this can possibly be covered under the guise of “natural growth,” which even the Netanyahu government has conceded would limit settlement building.
At this writing, there has been a conspicuous silence from the Obama administration on this matter. It’s possible it’s being dealt with behind the scenes, but even if so, the credibility of Obama’s anti-settlement stance is being tested here. He needs to do something, not merely object, publicly.
It’s true that these units are only in the planning stage, and ground-breaking for them is still a ways off. But for Obama, the time is now. This is a matter of pure defiance, a US ally simply thumbing its nose, with no good reason behind it, at American policy. By itself, this won’t destroy Obama’s credibility, but if Israel is seen to be free to ignore American wishes, it bodes very ill on many levels.
In a further blow to Israel’s ability to claim it is a “country of law,” the area planned for the units is adjacent to structures already built on privately owned Palestinian land, and, Bimkom suggests, the declaration of the area for the new construction as state lands is a bid to “whitewash” the construction that has already taken place there. And sadly, it is merely symptomatic of the widespread construction in the West Bank which has been done illegally, both by the state and by private individuals and companies which the “country of law” turns a blind eye to.