Settler violence against Palestinians has escalated during Israel's "hands-off" approach in the occupied West Bank, according to Haaretz. The Israeli newspaper has reported that violence by Jews against Palestinians has risen dramatically in the past two years, with officials referring to a "permissive atmosphere" for extremists in the area. Data from the Israeli security ministry confirms this increase.
Moreover, the Israeli intelligence agencies warned in a recent session with the government and security officials of an increase in settler crimes and attacks against Palestinians. The settlers' storming of Al-Mufkara village, south of Hebron, where they beat up Palestinian residents, was one of the latest of these brutal crimes carried out under the protection of Israeli soldiers, as eyewitnesses confirmed to Anadolu.
Current Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is known to be a right-wing settler in terms of his thoughts and ideology. He believes in Greater Israel, which includes all of historic Palestine from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, and he was head of the Yesha Council for settlements, so we do not expect anything from him. Bennett rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state, refuses to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and saw no reason to refer to the conflict with the Palestinians in his recent speech at the UN General Assembly. In order for his heterogeneous government to survive — it does not have a comfortable majority — Bennett needs the support of settler leaders, or at least needs to stay in their good books. He cares little that the International Criminal Court is opening an investigation into the crimes committed by the occupation state in the Palestinian territories.
READ: PA calls for extremist settlers to be added to global terror lists
According to a government official quoted by the Times of Israel, despite the change of the administration in Washington, Israel's illegal settlement construction policies will remain largely unchanged. He said that Bennett's government will work according to the understandings reached by his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu and former US President Donald Trump, whose administration allowed Israel to continue settlement construction across the West Bank as long as this did not extend to new settlement outposts. This agreement meant a sharp increase in settlement construction during the Trump era; the number of projects approved beyond the Green (1949 Armistice) Line more than doubled, compared with the number during President Barack Obama's second term.
Despite news of Bennett's promise during his recent meeting with US President Joe Biden not to annex any of the West Bank, he is still following Netanyahu's approach, and possibly at a more extreme pace. His government is pursuing the same policy based on settlement expansion and the creation of new facts on the ground. The occupation state and its bulldozers are working around the clock in the service of the Judaisation settlement project in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, through the construction of settler-only bypass roads.
Israel is working to change the geography, topography, and demography of the land through the expansion of its settlements while building the infrastructure that will enable it to annex large areas of the West Bank in the future. Successive Israeli governments under Netanyahu's leadership allocated massive budgets for these roads, totalling more than $247 million, as well as budgets that fall under sub-budgets earmarked for settlements in a number of ministries, including the so-called Ministry of Defence. Details were given in a report issued in September by the PLO's National Bureau for Defending Land and Resisting Settlements. Israeli Jews enjoy special privileges to encourage them to move to the settlements. Semi-official estimates put the number of settlers at around 650,000 across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. All of this is sufficient to signify the gradual annexation and the imposition of Israeli sovereignty over large areas of Palestinian land.
In spite of this, the normalisation by Arab states of their relations with Israel continues apace. An aircraft belonging to Egypt Air, for example, landed at Ben Gurion Airport for the first time since the signing of the peace agreement 42 years ago. A spokesperson for the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority, Ofer Lefler, said that Egypt Air is going to operate four flights a week to Israel. Lefler described this as "a historic first" following talks between Bennett and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi last month in Sharm El-Sheikh. The two men "created a foundation for deep ties in the future," said Bennett.
Prior to that, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid opened the Embassy of Israel in Bahrain. Commercial flights between Bahrain and Israel were in operation even before the opening ceremony. At Dubai's Expo 2020, the UAE is hosting an Israeli pavilion, illustrating the integration of the occupying power within the Middle East.
READ: 26 Israeli violations against journalists in September
As far as the Palestinians are concerned, this relatively comfortable environment has strengthened the resolve of illegal settlers to attack them. The PA security services still coordinate their activities with the occupation forces, and the PA still clamps down on resistance activities of all kinds. The options for the resistance factions are limited. While the settlers receive implicit or explicit support from the occupation government and their punishments are negligible, despite the brutality of their attacks, the Palestinians do not enjoy any real protection in their lands, villages, or even in Palestinian cities, such as Hebron.
Haaretz is wrong to suggest that this is a "hands-off" approach to the Palestinians and the occupied territories. It is, more accurately, a "hands-off" approach to the illegal Jewish settlers and their vicious attacks on the people of occupied Palestine.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 6 October 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.