US President Joe Biden placed much emphasis on rhetorically opposing Israel’s settlement expansion. Hence the reaction from Washington over the Israeli Knesset passing the second and third readings of the Disengagement Law that would allow resettlement of Jewish Israelis in four previously vacated illegal settlement areas in the occupied West Bank. Israel’s Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog was summoned by the US State Department over the rescinding of the 2005 bill, while the State Department’s Deputy Spokesman Vedant Patel referenced the agreement between then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and US President George W. Bush on Palestinian territorial contiguity.
The Abraham Accords have changed much of politics since then. Settlement expansion continued and despite the two-state compromise being still touted as the only solution, the international community is not working towards its implementation. The normalisation agreements have now eclipsed the two-state politics, validating the Trump administration’s claims that annexation was just temporarily suspended, as did Netanyahu’s return as prime minister.
Repealing the Disengagement Law may have temporarily irked the US, but within Israel, the sentiment is different. Far-right MK Orit Strok has already declared the law as a step towards settlers reoccupying Gaza, after Sharon evacuated the settlements in 2005. “I don’t know how long it will take,” Strok stated. “Sadly, a return to the Gaza Strip will involve many casualties, just as the departure from the Gaza Strip came with many casualties. But ultimately it is part of the Land of Israel, and a day will come when we will return to it.”
Primarily, colonial settlement does not constitute a return, but a continuation of land theft. The language of return is stolen from the Palestinians’ historical narrative – the 1948 Nakba is the reason why Palestinians speak of their right to return to their homeland. Gaza is one of the main locations where Palestinians fled to during the Nakba – the population is not merely symbolic of refugees but consists of refugees who have not just lived their initial displacement, but whose generations have also suffered internal forced displacement as a result of Israel’s periodic bombing of the enclave.
Strok’s words were not uttered in isolation. While Gaza has been vilified and marginalised by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, not to mention being the primary weapons testing ground for Israel’s military-industrial complex, the concept of Greater Israel, upon which Zionism rests, will not exclude any Palestinian territory from colonisation. Israel’s earlier disengagement from Gaza has been touted by officials as a cessation of military occupation, yet Gaza remains under siege as a result of the colonial process Israel is constructed upon.
The current Israeli government is going beyond its usual levels of inciting violence against Palestinians, and one of the reasons Israel can get away with it is that the international community has normalised the forced displacement of Palestinians. Strok speaks of casualties, yet Israel would be committing further violations of international law with full knowledge of impunity. The international community’s categorising of Gaza and the occupied West Bank as distinct entities despite calling for an independent and viable Palestinian state facilitates Israel’s narrative. One must not forget, however, that the new Palestinian resistance is changing the international community’s status quo. As a result, despite the current focus on the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian narrative will, with time, shift heavily towards the Palestinian refugees, which Gaza particularly embodies.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.