As Israeli leaders are becoming increasingly and publicly dismissive of the notion of an independent Palestinian state and the rights of Palestinians to their lands, and as illegal Jewish-only settlements continue to swallow Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, is the pursuit of a Greater Israel, whether explicitly or implicitly, on the Jewish state’s political agenda? And a Zionist national aspiration?
‘Greater Israel’ refers to the notion of expanding Israel’s territory and sovereignty to encompass what many Israelis describe as their historic Biblical land. For many, this includes the occupied Palestinian territories and the occupied Golan Heights.
There are those who say the entire region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is the Promised Land of the Jews, and is theirs by divine right regardless of who lives on the land and their rights to self-determination. While others see it as a dangerous ideology centring ethno-supremacy and the marginalisation of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population. They deem it a threat to the principles of justice, equality and human rights and – by default – an obstacle to peace.
In the eyes of many Palestinians, the notion of a ‘Greater Israel’ is becoming a stark reality.
Illegal settlement expansion
One of the primary factors paving the way for ‘Greater Israel’ is the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Settlements are illegal under international law – as per UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, 446 and more recently, UNSC Resolution 2334 – adopted in 2016 – which clearly states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a ‘flagrant violation’ of international law and has ‘no legal validity’, calling on Israel to stop settlement expansions and fulfil its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israeli officials have not only completely dismissed all UN resolutions pertaining to the end of illegal settlement activity and the withdrawal from occupied territories, but have actively sought to encourage the construction and legitimisation of more and more Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land.
According to the UN, at least 700,000 Israeli settlers live in illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories that are intended for a future Palestinian state as per the internationally-supported two-state-solution. Meanwhile many Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territories are being pushed out of their homes and lands, from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah and the Palestinian neighbourhoods in close proximity to the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque – referred to by Israelis as the Temple Mount – to the South Hebron Hills and areas all over the West Bank. And finally the growing fears of the ethnic cleansing of the besieged Gaza Strip or large parts of it.
Under the Law of Return, a foundational Zionist piece of legislation enacted by the first Israeli government in the 1950s, any Jew born anywhere in the world has the right to immigrate to Israel and automatically become a citizen. They also have the right to live in any of the illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. On the flip side, Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who number at least five million in the diaspora alone, are not allowed by Israel to return to the homes and lands they were forced out of during the Nakba and the establishment of the Israeli State in 1948, despite their internationally-recognised right to do so as per UN Security Resolution 194.
No path to peace?
Aside from the absence of a serious pursuit and practical viability of a two-state solution, based on an Israeli and a Palestinian state existing side by side, there is wide Israeli disapproval of the increasingly supported one-state-solution approach advocating one democratic state between the Jordan River and the Middeatrean Sea with equal rights for all its citizens and the return of all Palestinian refugees. This is coupled with a status quo that maintains an Israeli military occupation over Palestinians and a system of apartheid as recognised by the world’s leading human rights organisations, including Israel’s own B’Tselem, whilst also encouraging and solidifying the establishment of Israeli settlements.
Against this backdrop, much to the concern of Palestinians across the spectrum, the notion of a ‘Greater Israel’ emerges not only as a physical transformation of the map but as a charged symbol encapsulating the complexities that define the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.