Indirect talks have begun between Israel and Palestine, with Netanyahu’s much-trumpeted settlement construction freeze forming the centrepiece of Israeli ‘concessions’. Regardless of how much hope you hold out for this tiny, tentative step, this is an interesting read that points out something that has been lost in all the noise surrounding the construction freeze – the nature of the freeze itself. As so often happens, the phrase ‘construction freeze’ has become something that the main players can invoke and bargain with whilst not really taking a look at what it means.
‘Almost five months after the declaration of the moratorium, it is now clear: The Netanyahu-Barak government is compensating the settlers generously for introducing this (partial) construction freeze.’ The difference is that between a construction freeze and a planning freeze. A construction freeze such as the one announced by Netanyahu is only a temporary setback to the settlers, whereas planning permission, which continues apace, allows them to plan for the future, and even retroactively legalises illegal settlements. The evidence for the continued pace of planning permission is threefold. Firstly, the attitude of the Israeli government towards demolition of illegal settlements has changed; it recently refused to enforce demolition orders on a number of illegal settlements, choosing instead to review property rights and see if the settlements could be made legal. Then, in another Catch-22 for the Palestinian people, the government claimed that since the settlement freeze its resources are so expended on enforcing the ban on legal settlement that they have no time to police illegal settlement. And finally, several major settlement plans have been approved since the freeze that previously had been stuck in planning committees for years. ‘When negotiating the construction freeze, the U.S. administration did not listen to Israeli voices who repeatedly warned of the shortcomings in a construction freeze that did not include a planning freeze’. The fear is that, when the freeze expires, the Palestinians will pay the price of this lack of foresight.