The settlement epidemic

Mohamed Abu Shaar , Tuesday 19 Oct 2021

Mohamed Abu Shaar observes developments on the ground

The settlement epidemic
Israeli authorities have been carrying out infrastructure projects aimed at bringing a million more Israeli settlers to the West Bank

In what the Palestinian Authority (PA) sees as a real threat to the creation of a territorially continuous Palestinian state, the Israeli authorities have been carrying out infrastructure projects aimed at bringing a million more Israeli settlers to the West Bank. The current acceleration in the Israeli settlement expansion drive in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank is consistent with the current government’s pledges to its right-wing supporters.

Israeli construction teams have begun building a massive transport hub near the Rahelim settlement in the vicinity of Nablus. Located on the road from Ramallah to Nablus, the station is part of a plan the Israeli Ministry of Transportation announced two months ago.

Costing about 40 million shekels ($12 million), the project will house over 300 bus terminals as well as office buildings and is expected to significantly improve public transportation for the residents along the many routes it serves. Construction is scheduled to be completed in a few months.

According to the Israeli media, the plan also aims to improve other infrastructural services with an eye to attracting a million settlers to the West Bank.

Noting the marked increase in the pace of construction and settlement projects, Ghassan Daghlas, a PA official who monitors settlement activities in the northern West Bank, said the transportation hub on occupied Palestinian land south of Nablus is meant to serve settlers and to tear the West Bank into tiny cantons with no geographical connection between them.

In remarks to the Palestinian news agency WAFA, Daghlas said the latest settlement projects are particularly dangerous in that they represent a revival of Yigal Allon’s scheme to integrate Israeli territories with the settlements in the territories occupied in 1967, all the way up to the Jordan Valley. Allon was a government minister at the time of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

In another step in this direction, Israeli authorities have seized dozens of acres of land belonging to a village east of Salfit. The lands will be incorporated into the Taffouh settlement which is being built on village lands. With this addition, Israel controls a quarter of the land once belonging to the Palestinians there. Eventually the rest of their village will be raised and their land annexed to that settlement.

To facilitate the confiscation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, Israeli authorities have changed the zoning status of lands where settlement outposts have been established from agricultural to residential land. This is effectively a green light for settlement expansion in those areas.

Elsewhere in the vicinity, the Avitar outpost will be expanded into a settlement on Jabal Sbeih  in Beita, southeast of Nablus, the ultra-right Israeli Interior Minister Ayalet Shaked announced recently. Two months ago, the Israeli army ordered the removal of the outpost because it was built on privately owned Palestinian land. Shaked confirmed that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed a plan that made it possible for construction to move forward on the Avitar outpost.

These developments reflect pressures on the right-wing coalition government to accelerate settlement construction and expansion. As the new settlements sprout, the government will seize the Palestinian lands in between in order to link them together and integrate them into a web of major settlements in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

Israeli observers agree that the Bennet government is able to respond so favourably to pressures for settlement expansion from the ultra-right because he is confident that his coalition partners, whether from the Israeli left or even the United Arab List headed by Mansour Abbas, will not leave the coalition which would lead to its collapse. The primary reason for this is that they all fear that the alternative to the current government is the return of the Likud government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. The former prime minister is adding additional pressures by playing to the same right-wing gallery that voted for Bennet and trying to portray the Bennet government as weak on settlement expansion.

In occupied Jerusalem, the Municipal Planning Council belonging to the Israeli Jerusalem municipality signed orders to seize large areas of land belonging to Palestinians in southern Jerusalem. The land is to be utilised for the construction of public buildings, roads and other works in an Israeli settlement.

Jerusalem Mayor Adnan Gheith said the purpose of these settlement plans is to disrupt the geographic continuity between the Jerusalem and Bethlehem governorates and to secure firmer control over Jerusalem by isolating it from its Palestinian environment by means of a large ring of settlements, some of which will be annexed to the occupation authority’s municipality. In addition, he said, the plan aims to remove some Palestinian villages and neighbourhoods from the municipality, thus altering the geographic and demographic structure of Jerusalem. Israeli authorities are bent on imposing de facto realities, heedless of international law.

The Palestinian presidency has condemned settlement plans in occupied Jerusalem and warned that they cross a red line as regards the status of the city which is on the verge of being isolated from its Palestinian environment. A statement released by the PA Presidency said, “Such projects violate international law, international legitimacy, and signed agreements and they defy the commitments expressed time and again by the US administration and which have stressed that settlement expansion and unilateral measures are unacceptable.” The statement asked the Biden administration to stick to its word and follow through on what President Joe Biden had told President Mahmoud Abbas during their recent phone call, namely that he opposes unilateral measures and Israeli settlement activity.

The PA statement warned that if Israel persists in building the three new settlements, it will push matters to the point of no return and drive up the climate of tension and volatility in the region. It added that all attempts to encroach on current historical and legal status of Al-Aqsa Mosque is off limits and stressed that the road to peace is clear: the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Insan Centre for Democracy and Rights has stated that there has been a significant rise in Israeli demolition and Judaification operations that serve the occupation power’s plans to forcefully evacuate Palestinians from their homes and land in order to make way for settlement expansion.

Citing European estimates, the Insan Centre said that since the beginning of the year there has been a 38 per cent increase in the demolition of Palestinian homes and confiscation of Palestinian properties, compared to the same period in 2020. The centre added that according to its own figures, the Israeli occupation has demolished 241 homes and residential buildings in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem since the beginning of the year, making dozens of Palestinian families, including many elderly people and children, homeless. As the centre pointed out, these practices targeting Palestinians contravene international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention, and violate UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions which criminalise the settlement of occupied territories and the forced displacement of their native inhabitants.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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