Commentary

Israel's "Doomsday" Settlement

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Following the UN General Assembly’s overwhelmingly supported vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, the Israeli government made good on its threats of retaliation by authorizing the next phase of settlement building in the West Bank. Unlike previous settlement expansions, which could be denounced but largely ignored by the outside world, this increase could completely bisect the West Bank and isolate it from Jerusalem.  It has been seen as a step-too-far by many observers in the region, who reiterate the argument that, as an occupying authority, Israel is breaking international laws by creating settlements on Palestinian land. In Israel, meanwhile, many believe that the new construction serves to further Israel’s geostrategic interests in the region and do not want Tel Aviv to give in to pressure from the Palestinians or international actors.

Reacting to the news of the plans for more settlement construction in strategic West Bank territory, Nicola Nasser argues: “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has definitely crossed an international red line to vindicate a swift and firm rejection from Israel’s closest allies.” Further, AMIN’s Nasser calls the new construction plans ‘Israel’s Doomsday E-1 Settlement’ and it is not difficult to see why: “on the ground, the site of some 4.6 square miles (12 square km) of this settlement on the easternmost edge of eastern Jerusalem will close the only territorial link between the north and south of the West Bank and sever it from East Jerusalem, the prospective capital of the State of Palestine, thus undermining any viable and contiguous Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

Alon Ben-Meir characterizes Netanyahu’s actions as “brazen and perilous” for the peace process, noting the move would only further isolate the Israeli government: “The Netanyahu government’s announcement, the day after the PA’s successful bid, that it was moving ahead with plans to build a new city in the contentious area known as E1 between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem making the contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible, was nothing short of a slap in the face to President Obama....Fundamentally, the dwindling prospect of achieving a two-state solution demands a creative and principled approach by the United States and Israel. The latest move by the PA may well provide the impetus to seek a solution, however elusive it may seem.”

Fresh off his victory at the UN General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also characterized the Israeli announcement as crossing a “red line,” adding: “Israeli procedures should be reversed because international law prohibits an occupying state from carrying out any procedures on the lands of a state under occupation. Now that Palestine is a non-member state in the UN General Assembly, he added, the Fourth Geneva Convention is applicable....The official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa quoted Abbas as saying that the Palestinian leadership has already formed a special committee to study ‘the day after.’”

Meanwhile, many in Israel have struck a note of defiance and are pushing the Israeli Prime Minister to move further forward with the plans for the settlement construction. For example, Efraim Inbar writes in the conservative Arutz Sheva that building in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank is a “strategic imperative”: “The fate of the Jewish State depends largely upon the government’s ability to take immediate action and to populate the area that links Jerusalem to Maaleh Adumim with thousands of Jews....Those who object to Jewish presence in Area E1 express concern for Palestinian contiguity, which is a deceptive argument. Free travel between Samaria and Judea can be arranged quite easily by constructing overpasses or tunnels....The main issue, however, is Jerusalem. The Palestinians plan to populate Area E1 with Arabs in order to create demographic contiguity between Samaria and East Jerusalem, thereby facilitating the division of the city.”

Yedioth Ahronoth’s Hanoch Daum also makes the argument that building in the occupied territories is their right, even if that means losing ally support: “The State of Israel has all sorts of assets, but the sympathy of the European countries is not among the important ones. It is certainly not as important as another asset we tend to overlook: Our independence....The decision to build an additional 3,000 housing units beyond the Green Line is not illogical. Those who feared that the plan calls for the establishment of thousands of new settlements can relax. The E1 zone, where the new housing units will be built, was a part of Israel even on Olmert's map. The government did not approve a new Yitzhar; it approved construction deep within the large settlement blocs....The decision to build in these blocs is first and foremost an Israeli right. The fact that it also punishes the Palestinians is of secondary importance.”

However, as the Daily Star’s Ian Buruma cautions, “Humiliation will not make Palestine stable,” even though Buruma believes that might ultimately be Israel’s long term goal in any case: “Israel has only itself to blame for what happened....by continuing to build settlements on Palestinian land, the Israeli government has undermined the authority of Abbas and his Fatah government almost to the point of impotence....To call the Israeli government clumsy is to miss the point. Israel has few illusions about Palestinians toppling their own leaders. In fact, a strengthened Hamas may play into the hands of the Israeli hard-liners currently in power....Israeli policies are not genocidal, as some commentators, not always free from anti-semitic animus, like to claim....Israel is, however, a semi-imperial power, using traditional colonial methods: ruling by proxy, dividing potential rebels, rewarding obeisance and punishing opposition.”

And then there are those, like Emanuel Rosen, who, comparing the current state of things to that fateful handshake between Rabin and Arafat at the White House Rose Garden, find today’s leaders on both sides severely lacking: “These were years in which those who wanted to talk and move forward were powerless against those who looked for any excuse not to advance toward a historic solution....Abbas' achievement in the UN does not impress me, just as I am not enthusiastic over Jerusalem's reaction to the initiative. In the mirror of history, both sides looked mostly pathetic this past week — engaging in wordplay and puffing out their chests without understanding or admitting that both sides are losing, while the clock continues to tick toward a catastrophe that is brewing right around the corner. When this catastrophe does occur, history will accuse both Netanyahu and Abbas of criminal negligence and extreme irresponsibility.”


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