Israeli government in cahoots with extremist outpost settlers
It is about time that Israel’s charade of differentiating between its official settlements and the so-called illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank was brought to an end once and for all. Israel is attempting — not very successfully — to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community in making this disingenuous distinction, yet it is doing nothing to dismantle these illegal forms of settlement and is instead gradually legitimizing and legalizing them.
In any case, international law does not distinguish between such settlements, whether or not they are approved by an Israeli government. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly prohibits the occupying power from transferring its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. Israel’s legal quibble that Jordan never had legitimate sovereignty in the West Bank is getting old, worn out and irrelevant, coming from a country that in the past claimed to be negotiating in good faith for its withdrawal from most of this territory so as to enable a peace agreement that would have allowed a Palestinian state to be established.
There are currently 141 “outposts” — compared to the 132 settlements that have been officially approved and established by the Israeli government — scattered throughout the West Bank. They are, according to the Israeli nongovernmental organization Peace Now, home to more than 4,000 settlers in nearly 2,000 mobile homes and permanent structures. About 80 of them are located, fully or partially, on land privately owned by Palestinians. In other words, this type of settlement is flourishing and, without compunction, stealing land from Palestinians who, in the context of the occupation, have little recourse to law or reliance on Israeli authorities to prevent this injustice.
This month’s decision to approve a controversial bill that will enable these illegal outposts to be connected to the electricity grid has let the cat out of the bag and exposed the government’s pretense that it considers these settlements illegal. A tenuous argument was presented by Deputy Attorney General Carmit Yulis and is based on a differentiation between outposts built on land declared to be “state-owned” that will be connected to the power grid, while excluding those built on private Palestinian land.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, leader of the right-wing New Hope party, was quick to take to Twitter and congratulate Yulis for this legal advice, fully understanding that it is a landmark decision in legitimizing and legalizing these settlements, which were born in even greater sin than those approved by Israeli governments before their construction.
It might be my legal ignorance, but does this ruling mean that, from now on, anyone can grab state land anywhere inside Israel and the Occupied Territories and then enjoy the government’s services, such as water and electricity, or does it only apply to Jewish settlers in the West Bank? The distinction between private land and state land is there for the purpose of serving the constant expansion of settlements and stealing this land from the Palestinians, who desperately need it for housing and agriculture as their population grows.
It is self-evident that private land should not be stolen from its lawful owners, but when a top government lawyer refers to “state land,” she willingly and knowingly ignores that this is occupied territory and that this decision adds yet another tier to the de facto annexation of it, handing it to a group of outlaws who are prepared to defy everyone, including the Israeli authorities.
In the bizarre relationship that has evolved between the outpost settlers and the state, not only are services and utilities provided to them, but the language describing them has also changed. Instead of using the term “outposts,” officials, including ministers, are now referring to them as “young settlements” — another attempt to whitewash the fact that they have unlawfully forced their existence on the state with the sole aim of grabbing yet more Palestinian land and increasing friction with the local Palestinians.
For many years, politicians have proved too weak to confront the leadership of the settlement movement, especially its rogue elements. The current generation of outpost settlers has learned from the 1970s generation that creating faits accomplis on the ground pays off, regardless of the outposts’ illegality and even when going against the wishes of the security establishment. For nearly 50 years, this has proven to be an effective strategy. And while the first settlers were part of the political establishment, today’s outpost generation is largely composed of extremists who respect nobody but their own rabbis and a few ultra-religious, ultranationalist politicians.
With peace talks at a complete impasse, any final settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution is simply not in the offing. There are no domestic or international conditions for advancing peace negotiations. In this volatile situation, there are groups that are more interested in discord and conflict than in a lasting fair and just solution — and none more so than the unsavory types inhabiting the outposts.
Much settler violence against Palestinians originates in these outposts, is committed in broad daylight and enjoys the complicity of Israel’s security forces, which do very little if anything to stop their crimes and on occasion even facilitates them. There is ample evidence of settlers from outposts taking over land and preventing villagers, who have lived there for generations and long before the occupation, from accessing their pastureland and water cisterns, forcing Palestinian shepherds to purchase food and water for their animals, increasing costs for farmers who are already suffering from poverty.
Similarly, olive groves are destroyed, water pipes are stolen, stones are thrown at people and property and cars are vandalized by the very settlers the
For many years, politicians have proved too weak to confront the leadership of the settlement movement, especially its rogue elements.
Israeli government continues to gradually and persistently legitimize. By not removing these criminals and asserting the state’s authority, the government is in cahoots with the most extreme of them, who are there to ensure that a Palestinian state can never happen and that Palestinians will never enjoy the same rights as Jews in this part of the world.
This trend is very dangerous and will only increase settler appetite for more land and the further subjection of Palestinians to their whims, while also threatening to completely subjugate Israel to their messianic, ultranationalist agenda. It had better be stopped before it is too late.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg