"No one will build until it is clear what will be done there," Israeli Housing Minister Ariel Attias attempted to clarify on Sunday.
However his government's message is crystal clear. In addition to the E1 announcement, 1,600 units were also penciled into the Ramat Shlomo settlement, which gained prominence in March 2010 at the expense of visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The following year, 1,000 units were announced prior to an April 2011 meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Apparently Israel's Interior Ministry doesn't put a premium on creativity, since it announced 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo during the run-up to last year's UN confrontation with the Palestinians. This settlement, in addition to E1, is being utilized as provocative soft-power against the Palestinians and Washington alike - a threat capable of morphing into tangible damage to a two-state solution.
"The answer to the attack on the Zionist character of the state of Israel obliges us to increase the tempo of settlement building plans in all the areas that the government has decided to settle in," Netanyahu said before the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
How Israel benefits from these decisions remains speculative, given that Israeli officials and citizens expressed regret over the announcement's nature. Current and former officials, along with Israel's various allies, have unveiled a calculated response that weighs Israel's right to build against the provocative selection of territory. They generally believe that Netanyahu erred in defying Washington so soon after the Obama administration stood on the losing side of an overwhelming victory in the UN, as well as the losing side of Gaza's 8-day battle. And they fear that a two-state solution is drifting further into history with each passing day.
Even pro-settlement actors have been forced to disapprove of Netanyahu's timing and its implications.
"We don’t like the idea of developing our communities as a sort of retaliatory or punitive step,” said Dani Dayan, the leader of Israel’s settler movement and a supporter of E1.
Except Israel's government will get what it wants in the end - sticking its finger in the UN's chest - and suffer negligible punishment from Western capitals. The EU ministers that rushed to condemn settlement announcements in East Jerusalem still hope to "persuade" Israel back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. Nor is President Barack Obama and his administration willing to openly break ranks with Netanyahu's hardline government, whatever the cost to America's image. The White House and State Department defended America's "no" vote as a "principled stand" when reporters inquired into the motivation behind resisting the international community at large.
AP journalist Matt Lee was forced to respond, "Doesn’t this ever give anybody any pause that you might be – that your principled stance doesn’t – isn’t seen as a principled stance by the rest of the world, but seen as – it’s seen as an obstacle? Doesn’t anyone ever – why does the United States think that it has the moral high ground and the rest of the world doesn’t on this when the rest of the world disagrees with you?"
As for Washington, settlement announcements prove too useful to a government in need of appearing objective. The output of criticism from the White House and State department has certainly piled up since the weekend announcement, having nowhere else to go after the UN debacle; ironically, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Friday that the administration opposes "any action that undercuts the way Israel is seen by the world." Unfortunately a hollow tone continues to pervade U.S. rhetoric. Each statement is so formulaic that a sense of "going through the motions" becomes evident. Now the U.S. gets to oppose Israel's unilateral actions and market itself as "fair and balanced," a narrative that runs perpendicular to reality. The U.S. will still be standing behind Israel during "direct negotiations" with the Palestinians - whether on the table or battlefield.
"We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and east Jerusalem construction and announcements," said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for Obama's National Security Council. "We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution. Direct negotiations remain our goal and we encourage all parties to take steps to make that easier to achieve."
"We have made clear to the Israeli Government that such action is contrary to U.S. policy," added a special statement from the State Department, which quickly flooded the international media with false headlines of "shock" and "condemnation." "The United States and the international community expect all parties to play a constructive role in efforts to achieve peace. We urge the parties to cease unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations so all the issues can be discussed and the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security can be realized."
This situation is too coincidental to be coincidental.
At least Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz will allude to this much: "I want to tell you that those same Europeans and Americans who are now telling us 'naughty, naughty' over our response, understand full-well that we have to respond, and they themselves warned the Palestinian Authority."