Unsettling realities of Israeli settlements

Map showing concentration of Jewish colonies in West Bank

By Jamal Kanj

A day after the UN vote to upgrade Palestine’s status at the UN, the right-wing Israeli government responded by adding 3,500 illegal Jews-only homes in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Israel was blatantly defying more than two thirds of the international community, which recognized Palestine as a state on the very same land, and in the process humiliated its “lone” sponsor in Washington by effectively deciding that settlement building takes precedence over peace.

Since 1967 Israeli governments from across the political spectrum have shared the same expansionist vision of changing the demography of the occupied territories in favour of the Jews.

Israel’s settlement policies are part of a well-thought-out Zionist strategy intended to undermine the peace process. In fact, the current prime minister was caught on video in 2001 bragging that he had “stopped the Oslo accords“.

His main government partner, the Moldovan Avigdor Lieberman, wants to complete the ethnic cleansing of historical Palestine by replacing native villages with illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Rewarding intransigence

Sadly, the West, especially the US, has rewarded Israeli intransigence politically, financially and militarily.

In 2004, with typical colonial hubris and without consulting the rightful owners of the land, then US President George W. Bush wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon endorsing Israel’s violation of international law. He said: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

Europe and the US can’t continue to claim to promote peace while empowering and shielding Israel at the UN Security Council.

The ongoing illegal Israeli settlements programme is perpetuating the US-blessed “new realities” aimed at isolating East Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian population and bisecting the West Bank into two separate geographical entities.

This, along with Gaza, divides “Palestine” into three disjoined bodies, making it impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state.

The latest settlements project includes controversial construction in Ramat Shlomo, which was founded in 1995 in violation of the Oslo accord, with another 1,600 homes planned to amalgamate the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim with East Jerusalem.

Add to this a further 800 units in the colony of Gilo, built on land expropriated from Palestinian Christians from the city of Bethlehem and the village of Bet Jala.

Israel’s “new realities” programme was accelerated following the signing of the Oslo accord, which specifically called on parties to refrain from such activities.

Prioritizing colonization

The US annual direct and indirect financial aid amounting to more than 5 billion dollars and European Union special trade tax breaks are enabling Israel to subsidize the settlement building programme they ostensibly disapprove of

Israeli human rights group B’tselem revealed that the illegal Jews-only settlements are designated as “national priority areas” – making their residents eligible for a wide range of special benefits, including special discount on land purchases, subsidized education, tax inducement for corporations and individual income tax breaks.

Israel spends on average 2,000 US dollars per Jewish student a year in the West Bank, more than within the Green Line. Settlements also receive on average more than double the funding accorded to Israeli municipalities in the pre-1967 border areas.

Europe and the US can’t continue to claim to promote peace while empowering and shielding Israel at the UN Security Council.

The US annual direct and indirect financial aid amounting to more than 5 billion dollars and European Union special trade tax breaks are enabling Israel to subsidize the settlement building programme they ostensibly disapprove of.

In Manama last weekend, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that “illegal colony-building” could make it impossible to achieve “the two-state solution”.

But Hague’s (and the West’s) platitudes towards Israeli violations of the peace process are some of the reasons a “perfect storm of crises”, to use his words, might be heading towards the Middle East in 2013.


A version of this article was first published by the Gulf Daily News. The version here is published by permission of Jamal Kanj.

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