By Akiva Eldar
Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.
Monday morning, as George Mitchell was on the way home from another diplomatic mission short on breakthroughs, Saeb Erekat did not sound dismayed. On the contrary, the head of the Palestinian negotiation team vehemently argued that the American envoy's last visit actually moved up the moment of truth for the White House.
The veteran adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's favorite move of throwing the ball into the Palestinians' court stopped working with the Americans.
They are patiently waiting for the prime minister's answer to two questions: First, is he ready for the negotiations to pick up where they left off at the end of the former prime minister Ehud Olmert's term? Second, does he accept the principle that the territory transferred to a Palestinian state will be the same size as the territory captured by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza during the Six-Day War.
The international community's patience, Erekat concluded, is wearing thin.
Erekat is not alone in his thinking. Over the weekend, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed at Israel as not only the one responsible for the stagnation in the diplomatic process, but also for the thawing of the freeze on construction in the settlements.
Two months after the government decision on November 26 to freeze construction in Jewish settlements for 10 months, you'd have to be blind, an idiot, or a member of the Yesha Council of settlements to use the term "freeze" to describe the real estate situation in Judea and Samaria.
Two days ago, when Netanyahu planted a tree in Gush Etzion, he promised to place many more trees in the Ariel bloc as well, which is 20 kilometers east of the Green Line. In the case of Ariel, Netanyahu kept his word even before he gave it; as he was speaking yellow bulldozers were feverishly working on a new site for Ariel's industrial zone.
The Civil Administration confirmed that the freeze also applied to industrial and commercial zones, and that surveys conducted last week in the Ariel region found several violations of the freeze order and an injunction to halt the construction was even issued. So what?
As mentioned, two days ago Haaretz documented bulldozers at work there (and also in the Barkan industrial zone). The Civil Administration spokesman explained that "the enforcement efforts and issuing of injunctions is done in accordance with all the relevant considerations and priorities."
It seems that the freeze on the construction of new industrial zones in national priority zones of the government in the heart of the West Bank is not at the top of the defense minister's list of priorities. He apparently was busy upgrading the status of Ariel University Center of Samaria.
Netanyahu's colleagues will probably explain to the Americans that besides for the settlers, factories also experience natural growth.