The world’s shameful silence on Israel’s new land grab
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has many facets, but it is the network of settlements that gives it a sense of permanence, an “in your face,” tangible obstacle that also symbolizes Israel’s insincerity about a two-state solution.
A quick glance at the map of settlements leaves an instant impression of the scale of the task of establishing a Palestinian state with any territorial contiguity. The recent approval of another 5,400 homes in dozens of settlements, many in remote and isolated parts of the West Bank, is therefore both a practical act of rendering a viable Palestinian state impossible, and one carried out in defiance of the international community, which sees all Jewish settlements in the West Bank as a breach of international law. However, the international community’s silence on this issue is deafening.
Over the summer, the generally welcomed normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain included an Israeli guarantee to abandon its illegal, ill-conceived and misguided plan to annex about a third of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. The decision to build thousands of new settlement homes in the West Bank, which will bring many more settlers to live on occupied Palestinian land, may not violate the letter of the normalization agreements, but is contrary to their spirit. It is a further provocation of the Palestinians, who see their dream of self-determination evaporating and their land becoming an extension of Israel, with or without formal annexation.
The ploy by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex the West Bank was only ever a smoke-and-mirrors deception to win over right-wing voters. It was neither a thought-through policy nor a strategy. For all intents and purposes, large parts of the West Bank are under the complete control of the occupying authorities, and although Israeli law doesn’t officially apply there, Israel imposes its will as if it were the sovereign power.
Of the more than 3 million people who live in the West Bank, 86 percent are Palestinians, yet the entire occupation system is designed to serve the interests and the wellbeing of about 400,000 Jewish settlers and the estimated 300,000 Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel has already officially annexed. Last year the Jewish population in the West Bank grew by 3.1 percent, while Israel’s population rose by only 1.9 percent.
This growth is no coincidence, but part of a plan to ensure that under any political constellation in Israel or Palestine the vast majority of these settlers will stay put in the West Bank, and control its most important strategic areas and resources. And even if an independent Palestinian state were to materialize, Israel is working hard to ensure that it will be a weak one, barely in control of its territory and dependent on the mercy of the Jewish state for its survival. Needless to say, this is not a recipe for genuine peace and coexistence, but a strategy for the indefinite occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, one that will result only in bloodshed.
There are 132 settlements in the West Bank officially sanctioned by the Israeli government; another 124 outposts built over the past three decades without official government approval are illegal under Israeli law. Yet this is another of the lies and deceptions of the occupation. There have been hardly any attempts to remove these outposts, many of which enjoy utilities such as water and electricity courtesy of the Israeli authority, not to mention the protection of the IDF. Since when do outlaws enjoy services so generously provided by government, unless both are in cahoots and aim to grab yet more land and settle yet more Jewish people on it?
For all intents and purposes, large parts of the West Bank are under the complete control of the occupying authorities, and although Israeli law doesn’t officially apply there, Israel imposes its will as if it were the sovereign power
In many of these outposts, as well as in some of the “legal” settlements, there has developed a racist, apartheid-like subculture that hardly recognizes the Israeli authorities, though paradoxically it receives their support. Such outposts enjoy separate roads and transport, and a quality of life that most Palestinians can only dream of. By their religious-messianic ideology these racist-chauvinist settlers perceive themselves as superior to the Palestinian population, and subject them to constant harassment, assaulting them and destroying their fields and olive groves. In a recent incident, the notorious settlement of Itzhar erected a sign that warned: “Entry For Arabs Is Dangerous!” Not only was it a vile and threatening act, it was also clearly illegal, and yet Israel took no action against the perpetrators of this incitement to racial hatred.
For Netanyahu, the expansion of settlements at this point is hardly ideological and more about keeping the settlers and their supporters in his court, at a time when he is clinging to power by the skin of his teeth. Meanwhile the silence of the international community is disturbing, despite the all-consuming challenge presented by the pandemic crisis.
To not protest vehemently against the expansion of settlements makes the international community complicit in this illegal act and its consequences. A new peace initiative may not be just around the corner, but this is no excuse. Only a few years ago, with almost universal support, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 which unequivocally condemned “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.”
But the deafening silence of the countries who supported this resolution is now enabling the destruction of any chance of peace. Such inaction is politically dangerous and morally reprehensible.
• 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. Twitter: @YMekelberg