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Disagreement between Bennett, Biden escalates

With Israel advancing the construction of 3,200 housing units in West Bank settlements, it seems that the honeymoon between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden is over.
US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office at the White House, Washington, Aug. 27, 2021.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made a difficult decision this week. His government was about to advance plans for the construction of nearly 3,200 housing units in West Bank settlements. The Biden administration was furious, far more so than Israel had anticipated, and as reflected in an angry Oct. 26 phone conversation between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. And then, as if on cue, an opportunity arose for Bennett to douse the flames: A strike broke out at the offices of the Civil Administration, casting doubt on prospects of convening its Supreme Planning Council charged with approving construction in the settlements.

Bennett deliberated for several hours, and then instructed his Chief of Staff Tal Gan-Zvi to do whatever it took to end the strike so that the council could convene. It worked. The council met and advanced the plans for the housing units, many of which had already been given initial green light under the government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bennett did not blink. Next week, his government will approve the construction of over 1,000 housing units for Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank in order to maintain the fragile balance between the two halves of his complex coalition — the right-wing pro-settlement parties and the center-left settlement opponents. Despite US pressure and the high-level protest, Bennett walked into the storm with his head held high and emerged in one piece.

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