Commentary

Israel Determined to Push Forward with Settlement Construction

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

The Israeli government is promising to make good on its threat to retaliate against the Palestinian Authority’s decision to seek UN non-member observer status by announcing its determination to push forward with new settlement construction. The move has drawn widespread condemnation from the international community including European Union member states as well as Israel’s erstwhile ally United States. The Israelis have reacted with a mixture of dismay and defiance, while the Palestinians have welcomed any pressure coming from these countries, especially given the increasingly dire economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

Following the condemnation by European states of the decision taken by the Israeli government, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor struck a note of defiance declaring that “Israel's building in its own capital is not an obstacle to peace, but rather the Arabs' demands and incitement", he said on Wednesday....Prosor added, "Settlements are not and never have been the main obstacle to peace. The real obstacle to peace is the Palestinians' demand of return, their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the continued terrorism and incitement against Israel. If the Security Council really wants to contribute to the peace process, it must address these issues."

Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yochana Visser makes a similar observation, suggesting “Criticism of E1 development plan shows EU policy is based on information from Palestinian sources…. The fact is that there has been no peace process at all since the Palestinian leadership decided to walk away from bilateral negotiations with Israel in 2009, a move that was the result of a calculated change in strategy in PA politics regarding Israel. Furthermore, most EU countries undermined the chances of a negotiated deal on the two-state solution by voting in favor, or by abstaining from voting against, the unilateral UN statehood bid by the Palestinian Authority in November. The EU thereby became an accomplice in abrogating the Oslo Accords....The speech of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal during his recent visit to Gaza made clear that Hamas cannot be a partner in any peace process and that the terrorist organization will never recognize the State of Israel.”

But as Alan Elsner argues in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, settlement construction has always been the bane of Israel’s existence: “Under [Moshe Dayan] leadership, Israel began vastly expanding the settlements, helping to bring us to where we are today. Just as this flawed thinking helped create Israel’s current dilemma, the Netanyahu government’s determined defiance of international opinion in building yet more housing units in the territories will have grave implications for future generations. It is already threatening the viability of a two-state solution as well as the future of our Jewish, democratic state. Dayan’s view was colored by arrogance: "They don’t like this policy but we shall do it whether they like it or not, Netanyahu seems to be cut from the same cloth.”

The Palestinians for their part have condemned Israel’s lack of positive response. According to a report by the Maan News Agency, “Lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti said Tuesday that Israel's settlement expansion plans are akin to declaring war on Palestinians....Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative party, said Palestinians should form a united national leadership in order to fight this war. The leaders should build a national strategy based on popular resistance, he said. The lawmaker said Israel's provocative policies will ultimately lead Palestinians to the International Criminal Court in order to stop these settlements plans.”

Moreover, the Palestinians are promising that 2013 will be a year where civil disobedience will increase as they try to put more pressure on the Israeli government as well as the international community: “The Palestinian Authority will escalate its diplomatic and non-violent struggle in 2013 but will not confront Israel militarily, senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath said Thursday....Shaath said the PA did not seek a confrontation with the US and that he expected Washington to pressure Israel to stop building settlements and to propose new initiatives for negotiations. The Fatah official said he hoped reconciliation with Hamas would be implemented in the new year.”

Unfortunately, despite the increased international scrutiny, in the short term there is little promise that the situation of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories will improve. As Ben White reports in an Al Jazeera special on the situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank, cities like Bethlehem are struggling under the pressure of “Israel’s colonial strangling…. Over decades of Israeli military rule, more and more land around the city has been annexed, expropriated and colonized, with 19 illegal settlements now in the governorate. Eighty percent of an estimated 22 square kilometer of land confiscated from the north of the Bethlehem region was annexed to the Jerusalem municipality in order to expand settlements....Keen to distract from the impact of years of Israeli colonial control, Israel's defenders try to make out that the city's Christian Palestinians are the target of a "jihad" by their Muslim neighbors - and that "persecution" is the reason for the Christian population's shrinking numbers. Yet surveys...consistently bear out the logical conclusion that the main emigration "push" factors are economic, political and rooted in Israeli occupation.”


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