Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to accelerate plans for settlement construction in a sensitive area known as E-1, as well as elsewhere around Jerusalem, is a potentially damaging move for Israel, for Palestinians, and for the United States. The plans were announced in the wake of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s successful bid for observer status at the United Nations. Previously, Israelis have justified building settlements on land the country has occupied since the 1967 war with arguments about the need for a security buffer between hostile states, and for more housing. But the E-1 announcement suggests that settlements can serve a political purpose, as well — as a tool to punish Palestinians, and as a way to ensure Israel will never have to share Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state.
The announcement of the E-1 settlement plans, which provoked a strong negative reaction among many Israelis and around the world, also shows the extent to which peace talks can be held hostage to politics. It is widely believed that Netanyahu gave E-1 the green light in order to gain the support of far-right parties before Israeli elections in January.