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Israeli settlements, unsettling realities...

A DAY after the UN vote to upgrade Palestine’s status at the UN, the right-wing Israeli government responded by adding 3,500 illegal Jewish-only homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel was blatantly defying more than two- thirds of the international community, which recognised Palestine as a state on the very same land; in the process Israel also humiliated its “lone” sponsor in Washington by effectively deciding that settlement building takes precedence over peace.


Since 1967, Israeli governments from across the political spectrum have shared the same expansionist vision of creating a new Jewish demographic on occupied land. Israel’s settlement policies are part of a well thought-out Zionist strategy intended to undermine the peace process. Indeed, the current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was caught unawares on film in 2001 bragging that he had “stopped the Oslo Accords” since 1997. Netanyahu’s main government partner, the foreign-born Avigdor Lieberman, wants to complete the ethnic cleansing of historical Palestine by replacing native villages with illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Sadly, the West, especially the US, has rewarded Israeli intransigence politically, financially and militarily.

In 2004, with typical colonial hubris and without consulting the rightful owners of the land, then US president George W Bush wrote to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon endorsing Israel’s insolence towards international law, stating: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

The ongoing Israeli illegal settlement programme is perpetuating the Bush-blessed “new realities” aiming to isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian population and bisecting the West Bank into two separate geographical entities.

This, along with Gaza, divides “Palestine” into three disconnected bodies making it impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state.

The latest settlement project includes controversial construction in Ramat Shlomo, which was founded in 1995 in violation of the Oslo Accord, with another 1,600 homes planned to link the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim with occupied East Jerusalem. Added to this are a further 800 units in the colony of Gilo, built on land expropriated from Palestinian Christians from the city of Bethlehem and the village of Bet Jala.

Israel’s “new realities” programme was accelerated following the signing of the Oslo Accord, which specifically called on parties to refrain from such activities.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem revealed that the illegal Jewish-only settlements were designated as “national priority areas”, making the occupiers therein eligible for a wide range of state benefits, including special discounts on land purchases, subsidised education, tax inducements for corporations and individual income tax breaks.

Israel spends, on average, $2,000 per Jewish student per annum in the occupied West Bank, more than within Israel itself. Settlements also receive on average more than double the funding accorded to Israeli municipalities in the pre-1967 border areas.

Europe and the US can’t continue to claim to promote peace while empowering and shielding Israel at the UN Security Council and boosting trade ties. America’s annual direct and indirect financial aid amounting to more than $5 billion and European Union special trade tax breaks are enabling Israel to subsidise the settlement building programme which the Western states ostensibly disapprove of.

In Manama last weekend, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that “illegal colony-building” could make it impossible to achieve “the two-state solution”. However, Hague’s (and the West’s) platitudes towards Israeli violations of the peace process are some of the reasons a “perfect storm of crises”, to use his words, might be heading towards the Middle East in 2013.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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