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Settlements and the settler state of 'Judea and Samaria'

There is a clear contradiction between Israel's demolition of two houses built by Jewish settlers in Beit El settlement following a judgement by the Supreme Court that they were built on private property belonging to a Palestinian, and the approval of Benjamin Netanyahu's government for the construction of 300 new homes in the same settlement, one of a number of building projects across the occupied West Bank.

Such a contradictory stance was reflected in the Israeli prime minister's condemnation of the arson attack on the home of the Dawabsheh family by Jewish settlers, which killed a Palestinian baby and his father, given that the building programmes approved by the Netanyahu government and a climate of state-sanctioned impunity not only entices settlers to move in but also encourages them to carry out such attacks. We should not, therefore, be deceived by the apparent awakening of Netanyahu's conscience towards the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of settlers and settlements.

It is through the judgements passed by the Israeli courts that the legal system plays a role in expanding settlements and gives them the legitimacy that Israelis crave. If the courts call for what we know will only ever be a temporary removal of some violations (the two Beit El houses, for example) they are only trying to remind settlers that they need to follow official guidance on the best way to confiscate Palestinian land and uproot the Palestinian residents therefrom.

Netanyahu's justice minister said that it is useful to destroy two houses to make it possible to establish dozens of others in the same place, albeit it is "regrettable" to have to demolish them in order to re-build them. The minister of education explained that the court can decide whatever it wants, for the judicial system has to issue judgements while the government gets to decide about ongoing construction. It is as if they are saying, "We will learn from our mistakes, and we will build settlements in accordance with the legal instructions booklet with which the government overrides some of its formal procedures, so that the courts' task becomes to re-direct the government towards better methods and pretexts for the confiscation of land and expansion of settlements."

The legal process for this is represented by the permissibility of confiscating land from its owners for security reasons, or to establish army bases; later, civilians — Jewish settlers only, of course — are allowed to live there, on the pretext that they are part of the security provision; then these bases are turned into settlements, which are gradually expanded, and they swallow the surrounding areas on the pretext that the settlers themselves need security. The Israeli courts can also provide Palestinian land for the settlers because their presence in the occupied Palestinian territory is a security necessity for the state.

A number of laws are available to the government which allow it to control Palestinian land as it wishes. The Closed Areas Law, for example, allows the military to close any area without giving any reason; the Law of Absentee Property, allows the confiscation of land that belongs to people who are not in residence, for whatever reason (they may just be travelling); and the Law of Fallow Land, which allows for the confiscation of land that has not been cultivated. The latter is one of the most unjust and ridiculous of laws, because the Israeli authorities declare certain areas to be closed and prevent the owners from reaching their land to cultivate it, and then the government confiscates the land on the basis that it is uncultivated.

The Oslo Accords did not address the issue of settlements and allocated more than 60 per cent of the West Bank to what is known as Area C, which is entirely under Israeli military administration. Settlements are the essence of Israel's founding Zionist ideology, and they have expanded many times under peace negotiations; the Palestine Liberation Organisation has failed to extract any Israeli pledge to halt settlement activity or freeze it. The West Bank is filled with settlements housing more than 600,000 settlers — all illegal under international law — with 200,000 in Jerusalem alone. The settlement programme has dismembered the West Bank, making a two-state solution almost impossible to envisage and making it unlikely that Israel will ever withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territory under its control.

In the process, Jewish settler groups and political parties have grown in number and influence; it is impossible to form a government in Israel without their support. Militant extremists amongst the settlers are responsible for attacks against Palestinians and their homes and farms. An estimated 1,000 such attacks take place every year, and include murder, beatings, the burning of crops and trees, arson attacks on buildings and restricting free movement. The latest of these attacks was the arson attack targeting the Dawabsheh family. The incident cannot be separated from the context of all other settler violence. Needless to say, all settlers are heavily armed and are provided with back-up and protection by the Israeli army, and encouragement from the state.

It is no longer a secret that ardent Zionists are talking about the creation of a settler state in what they call "Judea and Samaria" in an effort to thwart any attempt by the government to withdraw from any occupied territory or close settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. This has even been mentioned by Yuval Diskin, the former head of Israel's internal security service, the Shin Bet. Such a move would subject the West Bank to the control of the settlers, under the pretext that there is a dispute between residents of the West Bank; any "solution" in the occupied territories must therefore take into account the diversity of the population, even if the settlers have imposed their presence on the Palestinians in their own land.

It is enough for us to get alarmed to know that the proportion of Jewish settlers relative to the Palestinians in the West Bank exceeds the proportion of Jews to Arabs in 1948 when Israel was created. The Jewish settlers have the ability and influence to enable them to declare their own state, leaving the Israeli government free to claim that it is not responsible for what is happening there. That would, of course, be a disingenuous argument, given that it has created the settlements and settler-only access roads, and provided security and infrastructure for the settlers in the first place.

The West Bank is thus undergoing a serious Judaisation process as I write, and a major disaster is about to hit the Palestinians amid the near-complete absence and deadly inaction of the so-called Palestinian Authority. Regional Arab states and the international community are silent about what is happening before their eyes, which leaves the Israeli occupation government free to do what it wishes, and settlers free to declare their own state in the West Bank, which they call Judea and Samaria. Is anyone going to respond, to stop the disaster before it takes place?

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 13 August, 2015

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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