Israel moving fast to prevent a Palestinian state

Israel moving fast to prevent a Palestinian state

Settlement expansion and settler violence have played a major role in undermining Palestinian hopes for a state. (Reuters)
Settlement expansion and settler violence have played a major role in undermining Palestinian hopes for a state. (Reuters)
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Israel recently announced the appropriation of more than 12 sq. km of land in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, declaring it “state land.” The move follows other appropriations of land in February and March. The recent announcement makes 2024 the year with by far the most appropriation of West Bank territory to “state land” since the 1993 Oslo Accords, according to Peace Now. Last week, Israel also approved the construction of 5,295 new housing units in West Bank settlements.
Ever since Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, Israeli governments have supported varying levels of Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Today, there are more than 100 settlements — or far more, depending on how one counts — in the West Bank and a population of more than 500,000 settlers in the territory.
For decades, the expansion of settlements has presented a growing obstacle to the potential for a Palestinian state in the West Bank. The settlements — combined with the road network, separation barrier, water allocations and other infrastructure designed to protect and support them — make any sort of governable Palestinian state impossible. The Palestinian Authority only has limited governance over enclaves that are like holes in Swiss cheese.
The creation of a viable Palestinian state would require extensive dismantling of settlements and the related infrastructure and moving many settlers back into Israel. It is not clear that any Israeli government since the Oslo Accords has been willing to seriously consider such steps, which have become increasingly difficult as settlements have expanded. It is very clear that the current Israeli government adamantly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and actively supports increasing land appropriation and settlement.
The current government has granted Bezalel Smotrich, a committed settler activist who wants to annex the West Bank, extensive powers over the territory. This process included establishing a Settlements Administration under his authority and giving him expanded powers to determine the use of West Bank land. He is also using the position to make it even easier for Israel to destroy Palestinian buildings and to ensure that more defense funds go to protecting settlements.

Settlement expansion and settler violence have played a major role in undermining Palestinian hopes for a state.

Kerry Boyd Anderson

In recent comments, Smotrich made it clear that he is remolding the bureaucracy through which Israel manages the West Bank to ensure permanent Israeli control and settlement of the territory and to block any future Palestinian state. He has also used his powers as finance minister to withhold tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the PA — a move designed to undermine the already weakened Palestinian administration.
Under Smotrich, settler violence against Palestinians has spiked, with increasing impunity and sometimes support from Israel’s security forces. The political environment after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel has fueled even more violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. From Oct. 7 to July 1, there were 539 Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank due to the conflict, according to the UN; most of those were due to Israeli military actions, but settlers have also killed Palestinians (the UN reported 14 Israeli fatalities in the West Bank during the same period).
The UN reported 1,050 settler attacks in the West Bank between Oct. 7 and July 1. Settler attacks on Palestinians are not new, but the scale has increased substantially. The violence includes killings, beatings, arson and property destruction. The primary purpose of the attacks is often to try to force Palestinians to leave. Displacement of West Bank Palestinians has increased significantly since Oct. 7, including the use of violence and harassment to force Bedouin communities near and in the Jordan Valley to leave — which has the uncoincidental effect of easing the expansion of Israeli control and settlement in the strategically located Jordan Valley. Emotions also drive settler attacks, including a desire for revenge and to assert power.
Settlement expansion over decades and growing settler violence have played a major role in undermining Palestinian hopes for a state. The PA’s inability to halt the loss of Palestinian land or to protect Palestinians has contributed to distrust of its leaders. Palestinians have long lived with the reality of daily obstacles and humiliations imposed on them by Israeli authorities, while watching settlements increasingly gobble up the limited West Bank land. Under the current Israeli government and particularly since Oct. 7, they also live with intensified fear of attack from Israeli security forces, settlers or both. The PA is unable to do anything effective about it.
A warning that settlement expansion is an obstacle to peace — at least under a two-state solution — is hardly new. Indeed, it goes back to the signing of the Oslo Accords. But the problem is far greater today than in 1993 and it is getting worse. The current government’s policies make it very clear that the Israeli government seeks full control over the West Bank and rejects a Palestinian state.
As world leaders ponder what should happen in Gaza after the current war, they are paying renewed attention to the idea of a two-state solution. US President Joe Biden, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and multiple other world leaders have emphasized that a two-state solution is the only way to resolve the conflict. They — especially leaders in Washington — must recognize that the current Israeli government actively opposes such a solution and is making fast progress to make sure it never happens.

  • Kerry Boyd Anderson is a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. X: @KBAresearch
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