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January 29, 2016
The Israeli government’s settlement policy has come under renewed scrutiny following the approval of new construction in the Occupied Territories. The United Nations and other international organizations, including the European Union, have openly expressed their displeasure with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s decision to move forward with such plans. However, it is unclear whether international pressure will have any effect on the issue. Meanwhile, regional observers, including many Israeli commentators and dailies, have carried on a lively conversation about the appropriateness of the renewed settlement activity, as well as the possibility of a longer term solution.
Writing for the Palestinian daily Maan News, Killian Redden reports on the settlement plans, as well as the international outcry that accompanied its announcement, noting that “In defiance of mounting international criticism, Israel has started to formally approve a burst of new settler housing construction across the occupied Palestinian territory. Israeli media reported Tuesday that Israel’s Civil Administration had approved a further 153 settler units in settlements across the West Bank last week. The approval reportedly came through for 65 homes in the settlements of Etz Efraim and Rachelim in Nablus, 28 apartments in Carmel in the South Hebron Hills, and another 60 in Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Bethlehem....The recent approval of settler homes comes against the backdrop of a rising tide of international condemnation of Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly state support for settlements. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council on Tuesday that he was ‘deeply troubled’ by the reports on the latest series of approvals.”
According to Jordan Times’ George Hishmeh, the new settlement plan is a reflection of the Israeli prime minister’s extremist policies and of the “unbending nature of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose extremist policies have crippled any peace negotiations with the Palestinians, has once again emerged this week when he revealed his intention to return Israeli settlers to Hebron, a prominent Palestinian town in the Israeli-occupied West Bank....As has been evident in the last four months, Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, considered illegal by most countries, including the United States, have expanded, prompting raging, uncoordinated resistance by young Palestinians....Israel confirmed this week that it was planning to appropriate a large tract of fertile land in the occupied West Bank, close to Jordan, a move that Reuters says is likely to exacerbate tensions with Western allies and already drawing international condemnation.”
As pointed out earlier , this recent move has been roundly criticized by international observers, but in a recent editorial, the Peninsula staff suggests that if it really wants to have an impact, the international community must do more than just issue declarations on the matter of the Israeli settlements: “Some European states have been staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause. The European Union’s policy of labeling products made in Israeli settlements has dealt a huge blow to Israel. Israel branded Sweden’s foreign minister as an anti-Semite after she called for an independent investigation into Israel’s efforts to quell the current wave of violence. The criticism of Israeli policies is not enough. The UN, US and the European Union must force Netanyahu to abandon the settlement expansion which is killing the peace process. Ban said he was “deeply troubled” by reports that the Israeli government had approved plans for more than 150 new homes in “illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. But these words must be translated into action.”
One such important step, suggests a Gulf Today editorial, could be to make progress toward the creation of an independent Palestinian state: “Truth is indeed bitter and it is not a surprise that Israelis are unable to digest it when United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insists that Palestinians are losing hope in the face of nearly 50 years of stifling Israeli occupation....The UN has repeatedly cautioned that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, threatening to destroy the two-state solution. But Israel keeps snubbing the world body by continually building illegal settlements....The message is loud and clear: the status quo cannot continue as it undermines the future of Palestinians. The one and only path to a just and lasting solution involves an end to the occupation, leading to a sovereign, independent State of Palestine.”
Opinions are divided on how to move toward that objective, with some suggesting political and diplomatic means, while others, in particular certain elements of the Israeli political spectrum insisting that, paradoxically, an Israeli military intervention in Gaza might be the best way forward. For example, the National editorial staff suggests that “the facts are there and some in Israel know that the situation is unsustainable. This week, the Israeli military took a sober view on the situation in the West Bank and found that there remains a great potential for a short-term escalation in violence. Nearly four months since the latest outbreak of violence, the army believes that a wider uprising is a clear possibility. Ending the occupation would be the obvious way to ensure stability, but Tel Aviv has expressed no interest in doing that. Israel is only fooling itself if it thinks it can divert the world’s attention for ever.”
On the other hand, Jerusalem Post’s Yom-Tov Samia expresses more concern about the eliminating any existential threats for Israel, pointing out that a more military approach might be preferable: “if the State of Israel would like to continue to exist, the IDF and the Israeli leadership must carry out military preparations for an operation that is fundamentally different from Protective Edge and Pillar of Defense. The next confrontation with Hamas – which does not necessarily need to involve a military incursion – must be initiated by Israel and not be a reaction to the bombing of an Israeli school or the abduction of a Jewish soldier. The next operation must make a significant change in the dynamics between the Palestinians and Israel, which includes economic cooperation that would bring about improvements in the Palestinian Authority in general and in the Gaza Strip in particular.”
It seems that these days there are few who believe that peace is attainable. In an op-ed for the Yedioth Ahronoth, Yoaz Hendel notes, among other things, that even the more dovish Labor Party leader has expressed his disbelief that a peaceful outcome is attainable in the short term: “Opposition leader Isaac Herzog's comment saying there's no chance of peace in this era is the most dramatic event to happen to Israel's Labor party in the past decade....The attacks against him for saying that we can't achieve peace at this time shows us the difficulty of contending with the world of political ideas. His critics prefer that he lie and promise the if only he was given a mandate and placed in a room with Abbas – he'd bring peace. They want him to say whatever he wants – but not the truth.... If Herzog doesn't back down, he'll be the first Labor party leader in years to actually shape the political discourse as opposed to dragging along behind it.”
As if to underline the difficulty of the task ahead, the Jerusalem Post gives space to an op-ed by Liat Collins who goes so far as to deny even the need for a diplomatic resolution by denying the existence of a Palestinian people: “Fifty years ago, nobody had heard of the Palestinians as a people and yet here we are: Israeli Jews perceived as colonial usurpers; mandated sessions at the UN on their situation throughout the year; and permanent refugee status. Today you can meet “refugees” whose families have lived in the same homes for decades, in many cases just a few miles from the houses they fled (often at their own leaders’ insistence) during the chaos of the wars the Arab countries launched on Israel in an attempt to destroy it....The UN has clearly failed in its principal aim to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” It was so focused on Israel and the Palestinians that either it missed what was going on elsewhere or it didn’t care. The European Union is not immune: On the contrary, it is based in Brussels, torn between Flemish and French speakers. Even the polite and peaceful Canadians, the type of neighbors Israelis not so secretly wish they had, are involved in a number of disputes, based on linguistic, ethnic and territorial lines.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com.