Throughout the decade in which he has served as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has accelerated Israel’s settlement project. Though in this he followed the approach of his predecessors in the Likud and Labor parties, the fact that Netanyahu is leader of the country has prompted researchers to study his pro-settlement actions in terms of thought, behaviour and motives.
According to a report by Peace Now, about 20,000 settlement units were built during Netanyahu’s last three prime ministerial terms. Moreover, 130,000 additional settlers have moved to illegal West Bank settlements during this time, indicating that his premiership has been beneficial to Israel’s settlement project.
This raises the question: Where was the focus of this construction? According to the Peace Now report, 70 per cent of projects – amounting to 14,000 settlement units – were built in isolated outposts, meaning those settlements built without approval from the Israeli government. However, these outposts still receive government support and are often granted official recognition retrospectively.
According to the report, 2,100 units were built in 2018, an increase of nine per cent on the average since 2009. This serves as indication that Netanyahu’s desire to satisfy the Jewish Home party, which has insisted on doubling settlements, was his most important consideration in order for his government to continue. He also wanted to ensure the support of settlers, especially ahead of this month’s election, which ended with a victory for the right-wing.
Moreover, hundreds of public institutions were also built in West Bank settlements such as schools, nurseries and places of worship, eight of which were located on outposts. In addition, 184 were industrial and agricultural buildings, 39 per cent of which were built in outposts such as Havat Gilad, west of Nablus, among others.
Focusing 39 per cent of construction on these outposts indicates that settlement institutions aim to impose a fait accompli that forces any future Israeli government to provide them with services. Further, this will ultimately eliminate the possibility of evacuating any such outposts in the future. This is how the settlement mentality works.
In 2018, blueprints were presented for the construction of about 5,618 settlement units, 83 per cent of which were slated to be located outside major settlement blocs. This exposes the determined efforts of settlement councils, not only to take advantage of the fact that settlements have been winning cards for recent Israeli governments, but to turn all isolated outposts into significant settlement blocs.
With nearly 700,000 settlers living in the West Bank and Jerusalem, their significance continues to increase with time. Though Israel previously depicted these settlements as part of a strategic vision to meet its security needs, recently they have become ideologically and religiously motivated, as well as a solution to Israel’s housing and demographic crises.
The result of the Israeli election shows that a government cannot be formed without the country’s smaller political parties. This will mean the Union of Right Wing Parties – which is led by religious Zionists and settlers – for example, will be able to accelerate the settlement process, meaning we will soon face the biggest wave of settlement in the history of Israel.
Settlement expansion and construction will not stop. Instead, we will see the annexation of outposts, to which Israel’s law is already being applied, which will only contribute to increasing support for them and their eventual legitimisation.
The Israeli right-wing, especially the religious right-wing, is acutely aware that it faces the greatest opportunity to hasten the realisation of its religious-Zionist dreams. This does not mean that these right-wing parties are the first to pursue this path of settlement, but the upcoming wave will be the quickest and most difficult in light of their efforts, backed by an American Evangelical government.
This article first appeared in Arabic on The Palestinian Information Centre on 17 April.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.