The Knesset recently passed a law allowing for expansion of settlement blocks, without any international interference, on land privately owned by Palestinians. What this means is that any house that was built by Israeli settlers in the West Bank or in Jerusalem will be protected under Israeli law. Therefore it is sufficient for any Israeli settler to gain control of land through force and build a house on top of that land for it to be considered his or her property.
The Saturday before last, many of Hebron's residents who form part of Hizb Al-Tahrir organised a demonstration that brought together a large number of citizens. The demonstration was in protest against the Palestinian Authority's decision to hand over land with Islamic artefacts to the Russian Orthodox Church, a decision that many considered just as dangerous as giving Palestinian land to settlers.
The protest comes in light of the recent Russian standing in the Mashreq and fear that they could sell that land to the Zionists at a later point. The land in question is in the heart of Hebron and is over 70 acres long. Despite the fact that the Russian Church had previously owned this land during the Ottoman era, the church no longer has the paperwork that proves its claim over the land. By contrast, there is paperwork that shows that the contested area belongs to Tamim Al-Dari, which means that Mahmoud Abbas ignored and bypassed all the laws when he gave this land to the Russians. Abbas has blatantly ignored all the rules that had been held in place with regards to this case. He has not given any consideration to the judiciary or the judge residing over this case.
From a practical standpoint, there is not that much of a difference between Israeli or Russian settlements because we are talking about a piece of land that was taken over by force. There are also those who are willing to defend this land through force in order to protect the rights of the original owners.
In terms of the differences between the two cases, we can say that the passing of the new Israeli law is a serious blow to the plans to establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 territories. The Israelis have stated that they are not willing to take one step back with regards to settlement expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The government has also stated that it will protect and give legitimacy to any settlement no matter where it is and no matter how large it may be. How can these large settlements, which have overtaken the largest Palestinian cities, be dismantled?
The strange thing is that this step has not garnered a sufficient reaction from the PA and it is the PA that dreams of a two-state solution and promotes it. A mere lacklustre condemnation is not sufficient, especially at a time when its influence is affecting the people and suppressing its (resistance) activity. The PA will do whatever it needs to protect its own interests and will not risk a reaction that is required from this violation. It will also not give up the position it currently holds on its political path.
With regards to ownership over Islamic artefacts, Mahmoud Abbas wants to give the impression that his powers are iron-like and that he possesses full control over the Palestinian people. He will act as he pleases without any consideration to others. He is responsible for misleading the public about this issue as the land was leased to the church but is not owned by it. The large majority of Hebron's citizens, including Hizb Al-Tahrir, stand in opposition to this action.
In any case, the risks associated with the rise of settlements in the West Bank are increasing and not decreasing. One can assume that this issue will be discussed at the negotiation table in any future talks but the likelihood of a solution in this regard is nothing more than a mirage that seeks to mislead the working class. They must be aware of the attempts to bankrupt the people's efforts. In the absence of resistance, the presence and violations of settlements will increase, leaving us with nothing more than empty slogans for an imagined Palestinian state.
Translated from Felesteen, 7 February 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.