Last week, Israel announced that it was appropriating nearly 1,000 acres of private Palestinian land near Bethlehem. The seizure, which one anti-settlement group called the largest in 30 years, was condemned by Palestinians, the United Nations, and criticized by the United States.
Israel has said that the move is retaliation for the June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Settlement has long been considered a fair response to Palestinian attacks by some parts of Israeli society, and appropriation of Palestinian land has been a consistent policy of every Israeli government since Israel became a state in 1948. In the West Bank alone, close to 250,000 acres were appropriated since 1979, using a legal mechanism based on an interpretation of Ottoman law.
The timing of this most recent appropriation, though, has little to do with any particular act of Palestinian violence. It did have something to do with pacifying domestic opposition – the appropriation soothed some of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners critical of Israel’s ceasefire terms with Hamas. But ultimately, the move is mostly about geopolitics.
This may be the most opportune moment to push forward with the Israeli expansion into the West Bank in the past 20 years – at least as far as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned.
One reason is that Netanyahu knows that President Barack Obama has bigger fish to fry right now. Washington has to contend with escalating tensions with Russia over Ukraine, confronting the Islamic State without entangling the United States in Iraq again, as well as carrying through on its determination to reach a historic rapprochement with Iran.