East Jerusalem expansion. Photo from The Palestinian Chronicle
Israel’s colonization policies are entering an alarming new phase, comparable in historic magnitude to the original plans to colonize Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem following the war of 1967.
On April 24, an Israeli ministerial committee approved three settlement outposts – Bruchin and Rechelim in the northern part of the West Bank, and Sansana in the south. Although all settlement activities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal by international law, Israeli law differentiates between sanctioned settlements and ‘illegal’ ones. This distinction has actually proved to be no more than a disingenuous attempt at conflating international law, which is applicable to occupied lands, and Israeli law, which is in no way relevant.
Since 1967, Israel placed occupied Palestinian land, privately owned or otherwise, into various categories. One of these categories is ‘state-owned’, as in obtained by virtue of military occupation. For many years, the ‘state-owned’ occupied land was allotted to various purposes. Since 1990, however, the Israeli government refrained from establishing settlements, at lease formally. Now, according to the Israeli anti-settlement group, Peace Now, “instead of going to peace the government is announcing the establishment of three new settlements…this announcement is against the Israeli interest of achieving peace and a two states solution”
Although the group argues that the four-man committee did not have the authority to make such a decision, it actually matters little. Every physical space in the occupied territories – whether privately owned or ‘state owned’, ‘legally’ obtained or ‘illegally’ obtained – is free game. The extremist Jewish settlers, whose tentacles are reaching far and wide, chasing out Palestinians at every corner, haven’t received such empowering news since the heyday of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The move regarding settlements is not an isolated one. The Israeli government is now challenging the very decisions made by the Israeli Supreme Court, which has been used as a legitimization platform for many illegal settlements that drove Palestinians from their land.
On April 27, the Israeli government reportedly asked the high court to delay the demolition of an ‘unauthorized’ West Bank outpost in the Beit El settlement which was scheduled to take place on May 1st. The land, even by Israeli legal standards, is considered private Palestinian land, and the Israeli government had committed to the court to take down the illegal outposts – again, per Israeli definition – on the specified date.
Now the rightwing Netanyahu government is having another change of heart. In its request to the court, the government argued: “The evacuation of the buildings could carry social, political and operational ramifications for construction in Beit El and other settlements.” Such an argument, if applied in the larger context of the occupied territories, could easily justify why no outposts should be taken down. It could eradicate, once and for all, such politically inconvenient terms such as ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’.
“Previous Israeli governments have pledged to demolish the unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank, but only a handful have been removed,” according to CNN online. In fact, that ‘handful’ are likely to be rebuilt, amongst many more new outposts, now that the new legal precedence is underway.
Michael Sfard, an attorney with Yesh Din, which reportedly advocates Palestinian rights, described the request as “an announcement of war by the Israeli government against the rule of law.” More specifically, “they said clearly that they have reached a decision not to evacuate illegal construction on private Palestinian property.”
Some analysts suggested that Netanyahu was bowing down to the more rightwing elements in his cabinet – as if the man had, till now, been a peacemaker. The bottom line is that Israel has decided embark on a new and dangerous phase, one that violates not only international law, but Israel’s own self-tailored laws that were designed to colonize the occupied territories. It appears that even those precarious ‘laws’ are no longer capable of meeting the colonial appetite of Israeli settlers and the ruling class.
Israeli settlements have been contextualized through Israeli legal and political references, as opposed to references commonly accepted in international law. The emphasis on differences between Israeli governments, political parties and religious/ultra-nationalist settlement movements is distracting and misleading; colonizing the rest of historic Palestine has been and remains a national Israeli project.
An article in the rightwing Israeli Jerusalem Post agrees. “Support for settlement is not simply a program of right-of-center Likud. Its history has firm roots in Labor party activity during the periods of its governments, and activities by predecessors of the Labor party going back before the creation of the Israeli state” (April 27).
The only variable that might be worth examining is the purpose of the settlement, not the settlement itself. Following the war of 1967, the Allon plan sought to annex more than 30 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza for security purposes. It stipulated the establishment of a “security corridor” along the Jordan River, as well outside the “Green Line”, a one-sided Israeli demarcation of its borders with the West Bank. Then, there was no Likud party to demonize, for that was the Labor party’s vision for the newly occupied territories.
While the Israeli settlement drive since then has swallowed much of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, populating them with over half a million Israelis, the international community’s response was as moot in 1967 as it is now in 2012. Responding to the latest sanctioning of illegal outposts, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon declared that he was “deeply troubled” by the news. Meanwhile, Russia was ‘deeply concerned’ and so was the EU’s Catherine Ashton. As for the US, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland insisted that the Israeli measure is not “helpful to the process.” What process?
While Israel has now showed all of its cards, and the international community declared its complacency or impotence, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah continues to plan some kind of UN censure of the settlements. Even if a watered-down version of some UN draft managed to survive the US veto, what are the chances of Israel heeding the call of international community?
There is no doubt that Israel is plotting its version of the endgame in Palestine, which sees Palestinians continuing to subsist in physical fragmentation and permanent occupation. Unless a popular Palestinian uprising takes hold, no one is likely to challenge what is actually an Israeli declaration of war against the Palestinian people.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), available on Amazon.com.