As soon as it was announced that Israel is heading for yet another General Election, and the visit of US President Joe Biden to the region next month was confirmed, it was obvious that Israel's illegal settlers are going to take advantage of events to strengthen their presence in the occupied West Bank. They have already taken steps to establish ten settlement outposts — illegal even under Israeli law — next month. This will be one of the first challenges for the interim Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, who does not have good relations with the settlers. It will also lead to an awkward reception for Biden.
Hundreds of settlers are staking claims to Palestinian land across the West Bank with the intention of establishing outposts in July. That's their plan for the summer in the wake of the resignation of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has dissolved the Knesset and brought forward the election, thus prompting the settlers to take advantage of the transitional period.
The settlers are well aware that political parties will be keen to win their votes, and won't be interested in disputes over the construction of new settlements. That's why work is already underway to identify new sites and possibilities for new settlements and "facts on the ground" at the expense of the Palestinians and their land.
There may well be a crisis between Israel and the US over this, coinciding as it does with Biden's visit. This is the last thing that Lapid wants or needs, and it may prompt him to hold talks with settler leaders to postpone their plans, at least until the end of the visit that concerns him on a personal level.
At the same time, settlers continue their contacts with the Americans and Europeans to prevent the financing of Palestinian presence in Area C, whether for housing construction or infrastructure. The latest settler effort was a tour to Hungary to convince the government in Budapest, and other European countries, to stop funding Palestinians to strengthen their presence in this area.
Settler leaders who met with Hungarian officials, claimed that the Palestinians had seized Area C, in violation of EU funding law. Their Hungarian hosts duly pledged to work towards stopping European funding of Palestinian activities. This is clear incitement by the settlers to get Europeans to stop helping the Palestinians to stay on their own land, even while — officially, at least — settlements remain an "obstacle to peace".
This means that the battle waged by the Jewish settlers to control what remains of Palestinian land has reached its threshold. They are expelling the Palestinians, destroying their pastures and crops, demolishing their homes and inciting European countries to stop providing funds for humanitarian projects that seek to strengthen the Palestinian presence by building infrastructure and roads.
The illegal Jewish settlers come up with more and more ways to steal Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. They claim, for example, that farms are within the occupation army's ranges and training zones. An area of 238,000 dunams has been confiscated in this way, paving the way for settlement outposts where there is already good pasture for settlers to use. At least sixty-six Palestinian farms have been taken by settlers in the past decade alone, forty-six of them between 2017 and 2021 when Donald Trump was US president and Benjamin Netanyahu was Israeli prime minister.
Interviews with Palestinian shepherds and activists, as well as an analysis of aerial photographs, show that settlers have taken control of these Palestinian farms by declaring them to be "fire areas" or "nature reserves". The Palestinian shepherds are prohibited from reaching their land.
According to Israeli organisation Kerem Navot a few days ago, agricultural settlements are divided into several types, including permanent herders. In some the grazing component is currently minor or insignificant, but may become essential in the future. In total, farm settlements cover 200,000 dunams, and have become the most effective tool for the occupation of Palestinian land, because they cover much larger areas in the hills and the Jordan Valley in what are historic pastures. Between 1967 and 1971 Israel declared hundreds of thousands of dunams to be "fire zones".
At the same time, 39,000 dunams of the total area controlled by the settlers lie within declared "nature reserves". More than half of the total area occupied by Israeli settlers, an estimated 128,000 dunams, is unregistered. The armed forces, the civil administration and regional and local councils, as well as the Zionist organisations and the Ministries of Agriculture and Education, all assist in various ways in the establishment of agricultural settlements. This is having a devastating effect on many long-established Palestinian communities.
All of this exposes the extent of official Israeli sponsorship of ongoing settlement projects in the West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law. Such projects are coupled with settler violence against Palestinians, as the settler thugs are able to act with impunity. Through this state-protected violence, Israel and its illegal settlers are expelling Palestinians from hundreds of thousands of agricultural dunams across the West Bank. This is what ethnic cleansing looks like.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.