Israeli settlements were a widely discussed topic throughout 2016, but more so during the latter part of the year. When US President Donald Trump was running his presidential campaign, he routinely appealed to the pro-Israel camp by reiterating his support for Israel and even went to the extent of questioning territorial boundaries between the Palestine and Israel by describing Jerusalem as "Israel's undivided capital". By doing this, he supported Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, and by doing so justified the continued building of Israeli settlements.
After Trump was elected, the pro-settlement tone quietened as the international community celebrated the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which branded Israel's settlement activity as a "flagrant violation" of international law and called on Israel to "abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War." The Fourth Geneva Convention states that building settlements on a conflicting party's land at a time of war is an illegal act. The spark of optimism soon burned out as the Israeli government announced a plan to build hundreds more settler homes in the West Bank.
On Thursday, UK parliamentarians debated on whether they should act upon UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and to pressure Israel to halt its settlement expansion in the West Bank. The debate was heated and there were passionate arguments from those for and against the motion. Sir Desmond Swayne, who was in favour of the winning motion accused Israel of treating the West Bank as a "Biblical theme park", while MP Bob Blackman expressed his concern towards Palestinians "internationalising the issue" by taking their case to the UN.
Many in the pro-Israel camp attempted to belittle the motion by claiming there are other factors to the Palestinian occupation than settlements. This argument had an ultimate flaw, because the motion did not claim that settlements were the only issue surrounding the Palestine-Israel conflict. However, settlements are one of the biggest obstructions in allowing Palestinians to obtain their basic human rights.
Palestinians living inside occupied Palestine are deprived of basic life necessities, whilst their Israeli settler counterparts in the West Bank are living luxurious lives in the areas that they have occupied. In 2016, a record breaking number of 1,593 Palestinians were rendered homeless as a result of settlement activity. As SNP MP John Nicholson rightfully pointed out in the debate, Palestinian farms are run dry, with little to no access to water, whilst Israeli settlers illegally funnel water to fill swimming pools.
The water crisis in Palestine became apparent when Mekorot, an Israeli water company, told the Palestinian Water Authority last summer that water supplies into Palestine would be cut by 50 per cent. The water supply to Palestinians was restricted to two hours a day during the summer while Israeli settlers in the West Bank were able to both legally and illegally obtain enough water to irrigate lavish gardens and fill swimming pools. Some villages in Salfit, Jenin and Hebron were even deprived of water supplies for over 40 days.
It is not only Israel that feeds into socio-economic disparities between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. PayPal came under fire recently for not offering their services to Palestinians living inside occupied Palestine, yet granted access to Israeli settlers. This has directly disadvantaged Palestinians, as high unemployment in Palestine has led to Palestinians going down the path of entrepreneurism in which PayPal is a crucial service for their survival. Despite global campaigns urging PayPal to change their discriminatory policy against Palestinians living in Palestine, their illegitimate ban on Palestinians persists.
MPs forgetting the context of oppressionComing towards the end of his speech during the debate, DUP MP for North Antrim, Ian Paisley spoke of the Women's International Zionist Organisation's project of getting Israeli and Palestinian women to paint an olive tree. He described it as a project that proves "if we put people together on the ground and allow them to negotiate and do something face to face, they will ultimately get to a solution."
By mentioning the project, Paisley dodged addressing the detrimental effects of settlements on Palestinians, to asserting that Palestinians and Israelis can achieve social cohesion; a statement that no MP or the motion being discussed denied. While the essence of the project is undeniably sentimental, to use it as a basis to claim that Palestinians and Israelis "sitting down together face to face" carries more of a substantial solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict than sanctioning Israel for its settlements is a flagrant whitewashing of Israel's crimes and a denial of the dynamics of the Israeli occupation.
Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer condemned the motion, calling it "imbalanced", because it only focuses on Israel's current occupation of the West Bank. He also criticised UNSC Resolution 2334 on the same premise and mentioned that, rather than focusing exclusively on Israel, there should also be attention on Jordan's annexation of the West Bank between the years of 1948-1967. This too, was an attempt to divert the attention from issues that are currently affecting Palestinians.
Labour MP for Dudley North Ian Austin implied that effect of Israeli settlements on the peace process were being overblown and there must be focus on the Palestinian Authority too and its "denial of Israel's right to exist." This is a complete distortion of facts as Yasser Arafat formally recognised Israel's right to exist on the behalf of the PLO in December 1988 and again in September 1993 in a letter that became the preamble to the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian Authority was then created in 1994 as a result of the Oslo Accords. Even after the death of Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas retained recognition of Israel and when he formed a unity government with Hamas in 2014, he asserted that the unity government would also recognise Israel's right to exist.
The vast majority of the MPs who were against the motion of calling on Israel to halt its illegal settlement activity in Palestine took part in the utter distortion of facts and relied on echoing calls for peace. Without accepting that Israel is being complicit in prolonging the conflict through its settlement activities, their calls for peace are empty and duplicitous. With over half a million settlers in the West Bank, and the number of settlements growing rapidly, denying the settlements' many effects on Palestinians and the overall peace process is no longer an option.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.