Israel has engaged in a seven-year high spike in settlement development in the occupied territories of the West Bank just as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tries to end the stalemate of peace talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The substantial increase has already baited Palestinian outrage, as well increased scrutiny of Israeli strategy and its legality as the region enters another chapter of the failing peace process.
The Jerusalem Post, and other news agencies, have reported an estimated 176% spike in the first quarter of 2013 alone, with 865 reported housing projects in Judea and Samaria. Two specific developments, Beidar Illit and Modin Illit, account for 506 of those housing projects. In Modin Illit alone, the number of houses has increased to 241 developed from the 2012 number of 26.
Representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization have condemned the development actions as a continuation of Israel's non-commitment to peace and even linked them with Kerry's now-postponed (due to Syria meetings) trip to the region. Both the Palestinian skepticism of Israeli peace intentions and the commitment to the policy of preventing future developments have proliferated across the media.
The most prominent question of the situation is: why? The timing appears to hurt the potential of Kerry's plan for diplomatic progress. The Israeli government has stated that the building permits for the settlements were issued before Kerry succeeded Hilary Clinton as secretary of state. Perhaps the biggest precedent of the Israeli insistence is the outcome of the 1967 Mideast War, in which Israel was able to capture the territories where Beidar Illit and Modin Illit reside.
While Israel considers the settlements legal within Israeli definitions, the process of development has been considered illegal by many both in the international community and international law. France became one of the first European states to speak out against the recent actions, citing they were "very concerned" and worried that the two-state solution would be burdened by the spike.
While the full extent of the rationale is unknown, there are several strategic reasons for the spike, accompanied by several additional layers of counterproductivity. This could be a way for Netanyahu to flex his political muscles to the Obama administration, a logical train considering actions like Israeli strikes against government structures in Syria. It could also be a matter of maximum territorial growth before any real peace talks take place.
The trouble, as reiterated by the Palestinians, is that the Palestine Liberation Organization will not sit down with Israel under current conditions and actions. If the potential for peace talks flounder before major U.S. involvement, the U.S.-Israeli relationship may strain beyond the lukewarm relationship that already exists. Additionally, internal disputes, in the form of Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon's differing opinion, undermine the solidarity of a true Israeli policy.
The delay by Kerry may be convenient, but the inevitable test of regional diplomacy will happens sooner than later, making the next actions by all parties involved critical.