Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ill-conceived and potentially disastrous scheme to weaken the Supreme Court by means of radical judicial legislation has dominated the news cycle in Israel of late. It has also drowned out his provocative and dangerous plan to tighten Israel’s control of the West Bank at the expense of the Palestinians.
In recent days, the Israeli government has issued troubling announcements to retroactively legalize nine unauthorized outposts and advance plans to build 10,000 additional homes in existing settlements.
These announcements, framed as a response to recent Palestinian terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, have been justifiably criticized by the United States, Canada and the European Union.
No one should be surprised by Israel’s unilateral moves. Netanyahu’s government, propped up by among the most extreme and unreasonable elements in Israeli society, has laid claim to the West Bank within the context of its staunch ideological rejection of a two-state solution.
While Netanyahu himself has remained conspicuously silent about Israel’s plans, two of the most outspoken figures in his cabinet, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, have both unapologetically justified them.
“This is our mission,” said Ben-Gvir. “Nine outposts are nice, but are not enough. We want many more (legalized).”
Smotrich, who has advocated the outright annexation of parts of the West Bank, has suggested that Israel should not be deterred by U.S. opposition because disagreements between friends are common and acceptable.
The outposts that Israel intends to legalize, such as Givat Harel, Hashalom and Givat Arnon, are deep in the West Bank and are built largely on private Palestinian land. The new housing units scheduled to be added to settlements will be scattered throughout the West Bank.
The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammed Shtayyeh, was totally correct in blasting Israel’s announcements as “a recipe for escalation.”
Israel’s unilateral moves will anger the Palestinians, stiffen their resolve to resist them, reinforce their view that Israel is not seriously interested in resolving the conflict on a fair and pragmatic basis, and widen the already yawning chasm between both sides.
Certainly, Israel’s counter-productive policy undermines the prospects of a two-state solution, as the United States and its allies indicated earlier this week.
On Monday, the U.S. Britain, France, Germany and Italy released a joint statement condemning Israel’s plans to legalize nine outposts and expand settlements, saying they would “exacerbate tensions … and undermine efforts” to achieve a negotiated peace agreement.
In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared, “Anything that takes us away from the vision of two states for two peoples is detrimental to Israel’s long-term security, its identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and to our vision of equal measures of security, freedom, prosperity and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
The Canadian government issued a statement as well: “Canada strongly opposes the expansion of settlements. Such unilateral actions jeopardize efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace. This has been Canada’s longstanding policy.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. and the European Union reaffirmed their position, with EU foreign policy director Josep Borrell and Saudi Arabia warning that Israel’s decisions would only serve “to further inflame tensions and complicate the situation.”
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan also issued condemnations of Israel.
They are the latest in a long line of critiques dating back to the late 1960s, when Israel embarked on its hubristic expansionist settlement project in the occupied territories.
Words, however sharp and to the point, are insufficient.
The United States, Canada and the European Union should scale back financial and political assistance to Israel if it persists with its foolish policies to deny the Palestinians the statehood they so richly deserve and require. Israeli economic concessions to the Palestinians, while helpful, are simply cosmetic.
Judging by his abysmal track record, it is highly doubtful whether Netanyahu will listen to Western recommendations to accommodate Palestinian aspirations for sovereignty and independence.
Case in point: On February 15, a preliminary version of a bill to repeal portions of a 2005 law, which led to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of four settlements in the northern West Bank, was passed in the Knesset. Sponsored by Yuli Edelstein, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, the bill would restore the settlements of Homesh, Ganim, Sa-Nur and Kadim to its original inhabitants.
It is crystal clear that Israel is hell bent on keeping the majority of the West Bank, to the detriment of the Palestinians. Regardless of Netanyahu’s rationales, Israel’s policy is a prescription for further chaos, instability and bloodshed.
Israel’s reckless behavior will have dire consequences sooner or later. Inevitably, Israel will reap the whirlwind.