Oren also characterized the announcement about E1 – a piece of land that separates the Palestinian cities of Ramallah to the north and Bethlehem to the south, even as it stands between Jerusalem and large existing Israeli settlements – as a political decision meant to address what he said was “pressure from a significant part of the Israeli electorate” to respond to the Palestinians’ UN move.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for early elections, which will take place Jan. 20.
The decision to proceed to planning and permitting for E1 construction has estranged Israel from many of its European allies and drew protests from the State Department.
A long line of Israeli leaders has considered retention of control over E1 as critical to Jerusalem’s security. But many Middle East experts say settlement construction in the E1 lands would strike the death knell of the two-state solution, because it would make any future Palestinian state unviable.
In listing the factors that make this the “worst of times” for Israel, Oren cited a daunting list: political turmoil in Egypt, with which Israel maintains a shaky peace accord; the continuing threat posed by Hamas in Gaza; the civil war in Syria, where extremists threaten to get their hands on the chemical weapons of the teetering regime of Bashar al-Assad; and Iran, and in particular its nuclear program, which Oren said continues to advance toward a point where Israel would be forced to act.