The American-Israeli meetings have resulted in agreeing on understandings regarding "controlling" settlements, but instead resulted in further settlement expansion. This was manifested by the farce reflected by the recent decisions, including the establishment of a new settlement colony in the heart of the West Bank, the approval of tenders in four settlements to build 1,992 new settlement units, and the declaration of about 240 acres as "state land", thus legitimising three settlement outposts.
The means in which the Netanyahu government presented these decisions is astonishing, as it considered these decisions as "reigning in" settlement colonialism and taking the American position into account. The explanations of this reigning in reveal to us the magnitude of deception that we are facing. We went from talking about freely building settlements and settlement blocs in Jerusalem and the removal of past restrictions to focusing expansion within the borders of other settlements "as much as possible". This later became expanding settlements on its borders and surrounding areas, which was supported by the Settlement Council, as the US-Israeli understandings do not freeze settlement expansion.
The farce is completely displayed by the American administration's response, which warned against the "indiscriminate expansion" of settlements. Usually, the US does not help push the peace process forward without condemning Israeli decisions or making direct criticisms, and President Trump has said publicly and expressed concern in his own chambers about the settlements. As for the establishment of a new settlement, an American official considered it "an implementation of a promise made by Netanyahu to himself, and he is a man who keeps his word," but did not address the continued settlement expansion in Jerusalem, which the Israeli prime minister did not consider up for discussion.
This continued colonial settlement expansion is nothing new, as this policy has been the spearhead of the Zionist project since the beginning. It has continued to be the spearhead of Israeli politics since the establishment of Israel and after its occupation of the Palestinian and Arab territories after the June 1967 defeat.
There was a large global wave of condemnation of recent Israeli decisions, especially for the so-called new settlement "officially" for the first time in more than 20 years. However, this is not true, as successive Israeli governments have been expanding existing settlements by areas that are larger than the area of the existing settlements and have been "legitimising" the outposts by means of constant settlement expansions. The remaining settlements will be legitimised by means of the so-called "settlement law".
As for the Palestinian position, it strongly condemned the recent Israeli decisions and demanded the world condemn them. However, it said nothing about the US position that covered the settlement expansion and the intention behind "curbing settlements".
Moreover, information was leaked from Palestinian leaders defending the American position by talking about assurances made by the US administration to the Palestinian side. These assurances claim that the US is opposed to the settlements and will confront them in the future. But we do not know when. Will it be after there are a million settlers? After we reach nearly 800,000 colonies?
Here I will mention what Taysir Khaled, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, wrote about not knowing why some Palestinian officials volunteer to beautify the ugly face of the new administration's policy and its positions on settlement activity. He also noted that there are worse things, such as claiming it is serious in reaching a deal while repeating the same American expression that substitutes rights for interests based on the facts imposed on the ground by force and settlement and which are governed by the blatant imbalance of power.
The Palestinian leaders must first not parrot back the word "deal" because the issue is a matter of a right and meeting a need, not a deal. Secondly, if the settlement colonisation continued even when former US administrations were critical of it, what will happen with the Trump administration not being an obstacle to expansion?
The appropriate Palestinian response to the farcical Israeli-American agreement is to refuse to engage in negotiations that have a clear outcome before even beginning. They should request a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the grounds that settlement colonialism is an on-going crime that must be stopped as a prelude to remove them. This is because the most dangerous action that is occurring is the legitimisation of settlement colonialism as a whole and restricting criticism to some "random" or "illegal" outposts, as classified by the occupation government, which is constantly working on legalising it.
The Palestinian side is also required to withdraw its previous approval of the principle of "land swaps", because this position legitimises settlement colonisation and is used by Israel to exclude Jerusalem and the settlement blocs from any discussions on "curbing" the settlements.
The Palestinian leadership is not likely to refuse the resumption of direct or indirect bilateral negotiations unless it is forced to by the development of strong political and popular pressure. It also will not submit a request to the ICC regarding settlement colonisation and will not withdraw its position on the concept of "land swaps" even before Israel commits to withdrawing from the 1967 borders. On the contrary, the leadership will continue its eternal dependence on negotiations and the American role, even though Israel makes daily declarations that it will not withdraw to the 1967 borders and that the most it will agree to is a "Palestinian entity" on slightly more or less than half of the West Bank territories, and this is most likely what Trump has up his sleeve.
The reason for the Palestinian leadership's failure to rise to the challenges lies in the fact that it gives priority to being a political player in the so-called "political process" without fulfilling the requirements of this role. This is despite the fact that the prices of this during Trump's time will be costly and will not be limited to its acceptance of entering bilateral negotiations without a clear and binding reference and without international intervention. Instead, they will include more concessions, such as stopping the progress towards internationalisation, because it contradicts with the policy of returning to bilateral negotiations, which means that the deterioration will continue.
We hope that Trump's words to Netanyahu regarding President Mahmoud Abbas being ready to make a "deal" are not true because the features of this deal are starting to become clear. It will be nothing more than a new more dangerous attempt than those in the past to liquidate the cause. We also hope that the Palestinian people, who have always kept their cause alive, no matter what, thwart this deal, as they are capable of keeping their cause alive until they are victorious.
Translated from the Palestinian Information Centre, 5 April 2017.
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