THE TWO STATE ILLUSION
Bibi, with a little help from friends like President Trump, has once again deftly navigated the legal, electoral and political systems in Israel to cement his position and that of his coalition for at least the next four years. Netanyahu would have to be a bumbling idiot to blow this prospective coalition. And no one has ever accused him of either bumbling or idiocy.
With a potential of 65 seats in his coalition in the Knesset he will be in a position to stand fast against blackmail from smaller factions like the five seat Right Wing Union, Beitenu or the four seat Kulanu. The margin is small enough that he will still be able to claim political necessity in any negotiation with Trump over his magnificent, secret plan, if, in fact, he even cares what Trump thinks. Bibi, in my experience of working with him, was not one to be beholden to any American President, particularly one who has already showered him with gifts.
Before his re-election, Bibi played Trump like a Stradavarius to lock in, 1) recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, 2) elimination of any US diplomatic presence in the West Bank, 3) recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Israeli occupied portion of the Golan Heights thereby 4) establishing a precedent of annexation through force of arms, 5) verbal, or in his case tweeted suggestions of support for Israeli annexation of all settlements, including tiny outposts in the West Bank, and this was on top of 6) a long term 10 year arms supply agreement for $38 billion starting in FY 2019 which had been negotiated by the Obama Administration in 2016. If Trump is truly a transactional President there aren't many transactions left for him to trade that I can see.
When I first went to Israel as a Junior political officer in 1969 there were some historic Jewish population centers in the West Bank and Jerusalem as well as several military-settler outposts (Nahals) overlooking the Jordan valley. In short, the "settlers" in the Wast Bank were at Zero population. Today, according to Wikipedia there are 211 authorized settlements and 102 unauthorized "outposts" that are settlements in waiting. At the end of 2018, according to Peace Now, there were 413,400 Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. As recently as 2018, 7 new "outposts" were established without government approval. 35 of these illegal outposts are now in the process of being legalized by the Israeli government. And all this growth took place largely under the watch of a succession of former US presidents, up to and including President Obama.
This was still a period of theoretical US pressure and, at least, verbal opposition to settlement activity. With those constraints now removed by Trump and with the new right wing settler dependent government of Netanyahu, the only barrier to explosive growth that I can see will be the limited availability of Jewish bodies to fill established and new housing being built on the West Bank.
Trump, or at least Kushner, seems to think that he can buy Palestinian acquiescence by showering them with Arab Gulf cash and international (US) economic rewards, but keeping well short of any moves toward statehood or independent Palestinian control. Maybe so, but I doubt it. The Palestinians have been down that road before with the aftermath of the Camp David accords and Isarel's control of imports into Gaza and the West Bank. What Israel gives economically can be taken away just as easily at any time. Today's Trump largess would become tomorrow’s Israeli leverage.
In the interim, and in the absence of Palestinian control over their own territory, there has been a steady annual 3% growth in the settler population in the West Bank. So, if we extrapolate, at a minimum, we can anticipate an additional 50,000 settlers during Bibi's new term. And since young Israelis continue to profit from their government's heavy subsidies enabling them to buy in the occupied territories when they cannot find remotely comparable deals inside the green line, and since security in the West Bank continues to be relatively well established, I expect there to be continuing movement of young Israelis from the municipal centers in Israel as well as from abroad to the West Bank.
If we can't put the settlement genie back in the bottle today, we sure as hell will not be able to do so in 2024. Both we, and more importantly, the Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to face a future in which there is no longer the illusion of a "two state solution." We will also have to face the continuing erosion of Palestinian territory, growth in both number and territory of Israeli settlements and the growing sense that Menahem Begin had it right - Palestinian limited self rule is acceptable for a majority of Israelis over the long term, despite cries of "apartheid" from some in the international community. If Bibi continues the policy of "creeping settlements" and avoids a "blitzkrieg" of annexation, we will all likely act like frogs in a warming bucket of water. And all that will be left to do is to redraw the maps.