Settlements that even Israel views as illegal
After nearly a decade of legal wrangling, the Israeli security forces finally evacuated the illegal settlers from the Israeli outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank.
To legitimize the illegitimate, Israelis invented the euphemism of “outposts” for settlements built without government approval. Hence “outposts” are regarded even by the Israeli authorities as illegal. This does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that the government is doing much to evacuate any of the nearly one hundred of them. In the absurd world of Israeli settlement policy, in the same week that around 3,000 police were required to evacuate a few dozen families and their supporters, the Israeli government authorized the construction of a further 3,000 new homes in the West Bank. This was in addition to more than 2,500 new units announced in the previous week. It led even the very sympathetic Trump administration to subtly tick off the Israeli government.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his sorrow for the evacuation of Amona, despite the fact that a ruling in 2014 by the Supreme Court found this outpost, which was built following the seizure of private Palestinian land, illegal. Another member of his coalition insensitively compared the evacuation to an act of rape. In the sea of more than half a million Jewish settlers in the West Bank, the removal of a small number of settlers may seem to be insignificant. However, it highlights that despite resistance even from inside the government, which many times is verbally vile and on occasion physically violent, settlements can be removed if there is a will. It also demonstrated that the Israeli Supreme Court can stand up for the rights of Palestinians regardless of the explicit wishes of the government. Sadly, it will take someone very naïve or an eternal optimist to believe that Amona will lead to more evacuations even of outposts.
Symbolically the settlements are the manifestation of the Israeli occupation and the suppression of the political and civil rights of the Palestinians.Yossi Mekelberg
The Israeli legal distinction between settlements approved by the state and the ones that are not, has no bearing on how international law regards them. As recently as December the Security Council, with the support of 14 of its 15 members, only the US abstained, reiterated that Israel’s building of settlements on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity. It is a flagrant violation under article 49 of the Geneva Convention prohibiting the transfer of one’s own population into an occupied territory. More than half a million Israeli settlers in 131 settlements, 97 outposts and numerous neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, stand as a testament to Israeli disregard for international law.
Legality aside, settlements are a major obstacle to the ever fading chances to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They render a two-state solution within internationally recognized borders impossible. There is a practical angle to it and a symbolic one as well. Practically, in the relatively small territory of the West Bank with its limited natural resources, the expansion of settlements and a growing Jewish population living there make a viable and contiguous Palestinian state a remote possibility. It is counter-intuitive to move more of the Jewish population from Israel, within its pre-1967 borders, when it is self-evident that a peace agreement requires the removal of settlers. The case of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza demonstrated how politically exhausting the effort was to remove a mere 8,000 settlers. In the case of the West Bank, at least 100,000 settlers will be required to leave to the other side of the green line to make a two-state solution a reality.
Symbolically the settlements are the manifestation of the Israeli occupation and the suppression of the political and civil rights of the Palestinians. The settlement’s affluent existence and superior infrastructure are a constant reminder of economic privilege fed by political power. It is a daily visible reminder for the Palestinians as to whom is in control and how their land is fast disappearing, servicing the needs of the occupier.
Amona may be gone, but it can hardly be regarded as the beginning of any reconsideration of Israeli settlement policy, especially when a senior member of the cabinet promised many more Amonas. As long as there is an intransigent Israeli government, no Security Council resolution or warning from friends will halt the building of settlements, even if it endangers Israel’s founding fathers’ dream of a state that is Jewish and democratic.
• Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.
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