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Settlements, first and always

Palestinian demonstrators hold Palestinian flags and placards during a protest against illegal settlements in the West Bank on 26 March 2017 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Apaimages]
Palestinian demonstrators hold Palestinian flags and placards during a protest against illegal settlements in the West Bank on 26 March 2017 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Apaimages]

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s comments on the current government’s contribution to the settlement project in the territories occupied since 1967 are still echoing. Lieberman announced that the settlement construction figures during the first half of 2017 are the highest since 1992. He also added that during the past week alone, the green light was given for the construction of 3,651 new housing units in these settlements. Since the beginning of this year, the construction of 8,345 new housing units was approved, and he described this figure as “as high as it could possibly go.” (Israeli media outlets, 11/6/2017)

These statements may suggest that Benjamin Netanyahu’s successive governments since 2009 are the most keen to implement the settlement project in the territories occupied in 1967. However, reality also attributes this keenness to all the governments before 2009, even immediately after the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

For example, on 3 February 2006, Yedioth Ahronoth’s weekly supplement Seven Days published a lengthy report in which it referred to new research data commissioned by acting Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ehud Olmert. It had, for the first time, included a summary of the budgets spent on the settlements in the territories occupied in 1967 and the size of construction in the West Bank. The writer of the report believed that this research put an end to what he called the secrecy surrounding the Israeli construction work in the West Bank.

Read: Israel spent $20bn constructing illegal settlements

According to this data, the budgets spent on the settlements amounted to 15 per cent of the state’s GNP and half of amount came from the state’s general budget. The remaining amount came from personal initiatives. In addition to this, the budget provided by the government did not include the numerous facilitations and privileges afforded to those who moved into the occupied territories, such as tax reliefs, grants and other privileges. This means that the budget spent on the settlements and settlers is actually much bigger. With this money, 14 million square metres of housing was build, as well as public buildings, industrial and trade buildings, roads and infrastructure, not to mention military buildings.

There is no doubt that there is a clear goal behind this research, as well as behind Lieberman’s previous comments, i.e. to put the issue of settlement in the territories occupied in 1967 in their correct context. This context indicates that all the Israeli governments, and not some movements in the margins, are the only ones with the right to this ongoing project.

#ApartheidState

This right is not limited to right-wing governments, taking into account the typical reservations regarding the vertical division between the right and left wings in Israel. However, this does not prevent us from seeing that the left-wing governments were no less blunt in this matter. If we look at the Oslo path as a point in time to be studied, we must recall the fact that all of Israel’s violations of these agreements and commitments are almost dwarfed compared to its behaviour regarding the issue of settlements. Its main desire at the time was to create the conditions and realities on the ground that would prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with regional contiguity within the 1967 borders. As a result of this, the settlers and their supporters have become, over the past years, a very influential element in the political arena in Israel. The fact that no Israeli government succeeded after Oslo in completing its legal term is a concrete expression of this influence. It is worth noting in this regard that all of the successive Israeli governments since the agreement have supported and given the green light to settlement expansion, land confiscation, and occasionally causing friction with the Palestinians.

In the first eight years after the Oslo Accords, the number of settlers in the territories occupied in 1967 increased by nearly 80 per cent, although natural reproduction constituted only a small percentage of this increase!

Translated from Arab48, 14 June 2017.

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