The European Union's decision to boycott the settlements struck the Israeli government like a bolt of lightning on a clear blue day. This, despite the growing whispers heard in recent years. Every Israeli government over the past four decades knew that the lack of a peace agreement with the Palestinians would at some point be used by Ramallah to get Europe to boycott the settlements in Judea and Samaria, but each hoped that this troubling development wouldn't happen on its watch.
It's a shame that there are some on the Israeli Left who longed for this day and blessed the EU decision. The EU's commercial differentiation between a settler in Ariel and a resident of Tel Aviv may alleviate any pressure on the west-of-the-Green Line Israeli economy, but the EU has in essence issued a yellow star to all settlers. Moreover, everyone knows that under the terms of any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, a majority of settlers will remain in their current homes.
Settlers are high quality people, with rights. The founding generation established settlements with the consent of the government. But the wheel turned and reality changed as Israel turned a diplomatic blind eye to the world's negative perception of Israel's hold over Judea and Samaria. It shouldn't have been ignored.
While right-wing elements within the coalition have been grumbling that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has limited construction in Judea and Samaria and almost completely halted it in Jerusalem, they understand that he was forced to do so reluctantly because of pressure from the U.S., which holds the same views as Europe on the settlements. Sources within the settler movement believe cement will start being poured again in September, after the fate of the current diplomatic efforts becomes clear.
Netanyahu could have reaped benefits in the international arena from the current construction slowdown, but the composition of his coalition prevented him from explicitly declaring that such a slowdown was in place. In fact, Israel has been making quite a few gestures toward the Palestinians, but it has received little in return for this as it hasn't allowed itself to talk about these gestures openly. And the reckless step that the EU took on Tuesday forced Netanyahu to come out and say that only Israel will decide its moves and that any changes vis-à-vis the Palestinians must be the result of negotiations.
The settlements have, however, expanded significantly over the past decade. In my opinion, Israel would benefit if it announced a one-year abatement of settlement construction. When climbing to the top of a mountain, there are ups and downs. That is the nature of the historical process.
If Israel must come to terms with the EU decision and if Israel understands that this won't be the last such step taken against it due to the lack of a peace deal with the Palestinians, then it is good that the current coalition doesn't include Labor and Meretz. The hot potato is in the hands of Netanyahu and right-wing ministers and it's preferable that the decision to implement a settlement construction slowdown be made by Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel from Habayit Hayehudi. Those involved in the issue will bear responsibility for the decision, one way or the other.