Israel’s damaging and counter-productive settlement expansion program in the West Bank continues apace. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Defence body responsible for authorizing the construction of settlements, the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee, advanced plans to build 4,948 homes, bringing this year’s total to a record-breaking figure of 12,159.
Much of the construction will take place in settlements such as Nili, Eli, Geva Binyamin, Yizhar, Einav and Har Bracha, all deep in the West Bank, outside the settlement blocs near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that Israel intends to keep even within the framework of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended his land-grabbing scheme to annex the Jordan Valley and the array of settlements and outposts in the West Bank, in deference to the United Arab Emirates, which recently signed a landmark normalization agreement with Israel, he is clearly intent on normalizing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, where 3.3 million Palestinians and 450,000 Jewish settlers live.
For a while after winning reelection in 2009, Netanyahu publicly paid lip service to a two-state solution as a sop to the then U.S. president, Barack Obama. But in the past few years, he has incrementally abandoned that pretence and reverted to Likud Party principles.
In plain language, Netanyahu is prepared to grant the Palestinians a modicum of autonomy, which falls far short of real statehood. Needless to say, no self-respecting Palestinian leader would seriously consider this insulting offer.
Netanyahu’s accomplices in consolidating Israel’s occupation are Defence Minister Benny Gantz and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Gantz, the former chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces, is a centrist who, in the last three election campaigns, never even mentioned the issue of Palestinian statehood.
With his one-sided peace proposal, which was released last January and rejected by the Palestinians, Trump legitimized the settlements and the occupation by offering the Palestinian Authority a truncated, discontiguous state in only 70 percent of the West Bank.
Netanyahu, in part, has been emboldened by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, neither of which insisted on a resolution of the Palestinian problem before signing normalization accords with Israel in August and September.
Netanyahu now believes that the land-for-peace formula, which guided Israel’s peace negotiations with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization from the 1970s to the 1990s, is dead and buried, and that his peace-for-peace concept now reigns supreme.
Be that as it may, the Palestinian leadership, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is unlikely to embrace it, killing the prospects of a two-state solution and leading Israel inexorably toward a one-state solution, which would undermine it as a democratic Jewish state.
As the foreign ministries of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain said in a recent statement condemning Israel’s decision to build nearly 5,000 new homes in the West Bank, “The expansion of settlements violates international law and further imperils the viability of a two-state solution to bring about a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As we have emphasized directly with the government of Israel, this step furthermore undermines efforts to rebuild trust between the parties with a view to resuming dialogue.”
Israel and the Palestinian Authority last conducted face-to-face peace negotiations in 2013 and 2014. It’s a foregone conclusion that similar talks will not resume if Israel continues to expand its network of settlements in the West Bank.
As Americans for Peace Now president Hadar Susskind has warned, “Every brick laid in a West Bank settlement is another obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. The wholesale approval of thousands of housing units makes a mockery of the Israeli government’s claims that it is extending its hand in peace to (its) Palestinian neighbors.”