The Israeli Knesset (parliament) has finally approved the settlement bill, which legalises the theft of private Palestinian land for illegal colony-settlement purposes. This means that around 55 illegal settlement outposts built over the past 25 years without the explicit consent of any Israeli government are now “legal”. Although the world believes that this measure will undermine the internationally-backed solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, in practical terms the international community is doing nothing about it.
“The law allows Israel to expropriate private Palestinian land in the West Bank where Israeli settlements or outposts have been built,” said Allison Kaplan Sommer in Haaretz.“It allows Jewish settlers to remain in their homes, even though it does not grant them ownership of the land they live on.” The bill, she suggested, should have been called “the expropriation bill” not “the regulation bill.” Opponents of the law, she pointed out, probably prefer to call it the “theft law” as it “legalises settlers living on land that does not belong to them.”
When the bill passed its first reading in December 2016, Israel Hayom reported that the Israeli NGO Peace Now explained that, if passed, it would “legalise over 3,900 structures built on privately owned Palestinian land, including both permanent structures and caravans. Some 3,125 of the buildings stand in official settlements and almost 800 are located in illegal outposts.” The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din said that “the outpost regulation bill does not even allow Palestinians to object to their land being stolen.”
Only one illegal outpost was excluded from this bill, which is why there has been a delay between the preliminary and final Knesset approval process. Amona outpost is located near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah; the Supreme Court ordered its residents to be evacuated. However, the Jewish Home party, which filed and advanced the new bill, reached a compromise with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and agreed to remove an article in the bill related to this settlement in return for an immediate start on building a new “legal” settlement instead.
According to Reuters, Netanyahu set up a committee that will promote the establishment of a new settlement, fulfilling a promise he made to the settlers.“It will begin work immediately to locate a spot and to establish the settlement,”said the prime minister’s office.
What did the international community do in response to the approval of this bill, or the go-ahead for around 8,000 settlement units just weeks after UN Security Council Resolution 2334 ordered the Israelis to stop building them, all within two weeks of Donald Trump’s inauguration as US President? Not much, if anything at all.
On Friday, commenting on the surge in settlement approvals, the White House press secretary issued a statement noting that the Americans “do not believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace” even though “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.” Trump, apparently, will discuss the issue with Netanyahu during the Israeli leader’s visit to Washington on 15 February.
“The obvious conclusion, exposed to all, is that Trump is giving the Israeli government the green light to build as much as it wants in the settlements in the territories, as long as the construction does not go beyond their borders, borders which were drawn by Israel itself,” commented Sever Plocker in an op-ed for Israel’s Ynet News. “And even if it does build beyond those borders, never mind.”
The Trump-Netanyahu meeting won’t produce anything new apart from praise for the settlement bill and encouragement for the theft of Palestinian land by Israel. Netanyahu has already told journalists that he had briefed the White House before going ahead with the legislation, reported Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
Although it is reasonable to assume that the British government backed the “theft bill”, there has been no overt mention of it from Downing Street. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Netanyahu warmly in London in this, the 100th anniversary year of the infamous Balfour Declaration, which “promised” support for the establishment of a “national home” for Jews in Palestine.
“I am very pleased to welcome you to 10 Downing Street,”said May, “particularly in the year in which we recognise the Balfour Declaration.” This was despite having full knowledge of the approval of around 8,000 new settlement units within the 10 days that preceded her Israeli counterpart’s arrival in London and, it must be said (because May didn’t), Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip on the same day. This made no difference to the British prime minister: “Britain remains a very strong, close friend of Israel, with lots of areas in which we already work together, such as science and trade, but also other areas like security.”
When Britain’s Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said that the bill “paves the way for significant growth in settlements deep in the West Bank, threatening the viability of the two-state solution” he was being unusually direct. However, surely even he knows that Britain’s “support for a two-state solution leading to a secure Israel that is safe from terrorism [sic], and a contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestinian state” is rather like a doctor claiming that he can bring a dead patient back to life. Israel’s settlement and annexation policies have already made sure that a “contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestinian state” is a pipe dream.
Both the EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and the UN’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, have condemned Israel’s “legalisation” bill, but that is likely to be as far as they go in terms of actually doing anything concrete to stop Netanyahu’s government.Nevertheless, it is still significant that Mogherini said that the new law “crosses a new and dangerous threshold by legalising under Israeli law the seizure of Palestinian property rights.” It is about time, though, that the EU used its considerable economic and political power to tackle Israel’s flagrant violations of international law.
“[The bill]crosses a new redline and opens the potential for the full annexation of the West Bank and therefore undermines substantially the two-state solution,”Mladenov told AFP. His new boss, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres added that the bill will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel. Neither UN official brought anything new to the case. Who on earth does not already know that settlements per se — not just the now “legal” outposts — break international law and threaten the two-state solution? And does French President François Hollande really think that Netanyahu’s government will repeal the law, as he called for on Tuesday?
The international community is more or less paralysed when it comes to doing anything about Israel. The state created by the UN ignores every UN resolution and the international laws and conventions put in place to bring some semblance of order to global affairs.
Writing in the Spectator, Nick Cohen said that if Israel were to annex the West Bank without the approval of Palestinians living there, it would be naked imperialism. “If it went ahead anyway, and did not give the Palestinians full citizenship and the vote, it would not just look like apartheid, it would be apartheid.”
Cohen then highlighted the Zionist dilemma. “If Israel were to annex and grant citizenship, Netanyahu would fundamentally alter the character of the Israeli state, and open the possibility of an Arab government coming to power. As he is never going to do that, what is he going to do? Annex the territory and drive out the Palestinians? That would be a crime against humanity. Carry on with slow debilitating occupation? That would add to the suffering of the Palestinians and drain Israel of blood and treasure.”
The two-state solution is dead in the water. The sooner that Western governments accept this and do something about it, the better. In the meantime, Israel’s slow but steady colonisation of occupied Palestine makes Cohen’s bleak scenario look ever more likely. The time for condemnation is long gone; the Palestinians need more than words from the international community if human rights and international laws are to be upheld. I, for one, am not holding my breath.