So far, the message has not sunk in internationally, even after the transfer of 600,000 Israeli civilians into more than 150 illegal settlements or the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem. Belief was not killed off by the segmentation of the Occupied Territories into Gaza, East Jerusalem, Areas A, B, C, H1, H2, and the seam zone. The massive wall that severs the overwhelming majority of the settlements from the rest of the West Bank and effectively annexes them was still not enough to wake up the international community from its slumber.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that the Trump administration offers a gigantic opportunity to push hopes for peace even more into the realm of fantasy politics. His latest anti-peace torpedoes focus on occupied Jerusalem and settlements.
But Netanyahu has also now backed a three-pronged assault on Jerusalem, somehow finding a little bit more space in the peace process coffin to bang a few more massive nails.
First, Netanyahu publicly endorses the Greater Jerusalem annexation bill. This would entail the annexation to Jerusalem of 19 Israeli settlements with 150,000 settlers, who would then be allowed to vote in Jerusalem elections. These would be in addition to those already built in east Jerusalem.
Why does this matter? Consider first that Israel has not done this since 1967 when it annexed 70 sq km to Jerusalem. In five decades since every Prime Minister bar none built and expanded settlements, but none dared to do this, not even Ariel Sharon.
These are not just random settlements. They include the city settlements of Ma’ale Adummim, Beitar Illit and Giva’at Ze’ev. In fact, it is in effect three major settlement blocs as it includes the settlement authorities.
Many of the settlements are not even contiguous with the Green Line let alone the illegally expanded borders of the city. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman may be happy as his settlement at Nokdim will be annexed even though it lies well inside the West Bank, south-east of Bethlehem.
Attaching these blocs to Jerusalem would not be annexation to Israel itself but the difference is minimal. It is annexation in all but name.
The second prong of this assault is perhaps even more insidious, involving ethnic gerrymandering. Three Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, Kufr Aqab, Anata and Shuafat refugee camp, would no longer be considered part of Jerusalem, the municipality no longer providing services. This was already barely happening in any event as even though all the residents pay Jerusalem taxes, because they live on the other side of the wall for the most part they do not benefit from Jerusalem services such as garbage collection.
Already, life in these communities is akin to a dead zone. Kafr Aqab has not received a single building permit since 2001. Shuafat refugee camp, the only one inside Jerusalem, is a lawless zone, unpoliced by Israeli forces and outside the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction. In fact, criminals and drug dealers from PA areas flee there for refuge.
The latest annexations in Jerusalem show that Israel does not want peace, does not want a Palestinian state and will not share this land.
It could mean over 120,000 Palestinians would be disenfranchised, having their voting rights forcibly taken from them. They cannot vote in any national election. They would have no resources and practically no economic life.
The law’s author was clear about the racist intent. In the words of the Knesset Member Yoav Katz from Netanyahu’s Likud party, the aim is “to strengthen Jerusalem by adding thousands of Jewish residents to the city and simultaneously weakening the Arab hold on the capital.” It is demographic re-engineering of the city carried out physically with settlements and by planning, essentially redrawing the boundaries for the supposed benefit of Jews over Arabs.
The third nail is an amendment to the Jerusalem Basic Law. It would change the law so there would need to be a special majority of 80 out of 120 in the Knesset to transfer any part of Jerusalem to a foreign entity.
This latest assault on hopes for peace has been put on hold, but not canceled. The Israeli government says it has to “coordinate” with the US. Pressure from Washington appears to have brought this about. The European Union has said little in public but private pressure was mounted. Yet this may only be a brief lull, not least as Israel may yet proceed imminently with some of the changes, even if diluted.
We need to call time on this charade. Israel’s claims to be a democracy, always weak, would be shredded by the attempt to give more votes to one ethnicity, the “Jews,” and take them away from another, the “Arabs.”
This Israeli government does not want peace, does not want a Palestinian state and will not share this land. The international community needs to adapt to this reality.
• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. Twitter: @Doylech