A Lie at the Heart of Israel’s Settlement Project

By Richard Irvine

As Israel’s self-imposed and largely irrelevant settlement freeze ends, Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked settlers to show ‘restraint’. It is an interesting choice of adjective, for people who show restraint are the injured and outraged; they are victims who although entitled to a full measure of justice settle for less to maintain good will and harmony. In the context of the West Bank settlers and Israel’s illegal colonisation no adjective could be less appropriate. Yet unwittingly it also reveals the mendacity behind Israel’s whole approach to these negotiations.

Settlements – or to describe them accurately, illegal Jewish only colonies – did not happen by accident; nor do they continue as some sort of unfortunate but unavoidable historical hangover. Rather they are central to Israel’s entire policy with regard to the Palestinian territories.

Centrally planned, funded and protected the settlements are aimed at achieving strategic goals. What those goals are was revealed as early as the summer of 1967 in the Allon Plan. Named after cabinet member Yigal Allon, the plan involved Israel settling the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, and the Etzion Bloc. With the addition of settling the main Palestinian water aquifers in the northern West Bank this plan has formed the basis of every Israeli peace proposal since. Its advantages being that Israel establishes sovereignty over around 40 percent of the West Bank; maintains control of its borders; seizes its water, and apart from the annexation of East Jerusalem, dispenses with the any sizeable Palestinian population. A quick look at the division of the West Bank under the Oslo process into Areas A, B and C shows clearly how in Area C, the area remaining under full Israeli control, this vision of annexation and expropriation has been put into practice.

Area C comprises 59 percent of the West Bank but only 4 percent of its population. Those unfortunates who live there are subject to all kinds of discriminatory laws and practices. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that 96 percent of Palestinian applications for building permits are refused whilst those few that are approved are restricted to just 1 percent of the territory. Malnutrition is also a problem with up to 28 percent of herding community children suffering from stunted growth. And in the Jordan Valley Amnesty International has reported that as wells dry up because of overuse by the settlements the Israeli army has prevented Palestinians from even collecting rain water. Meanwhile right next to this planned dispossession and impoverishment the Jewish only settlements keep their lush lawns; their Jewish only highways and their subsidised housing. And yes, all the illegal settlements are in Area C.

Appalling as all this is, it is important to reiterate that it is not accidental: this is the planned imposition of a colonial apartheid system aimed at achieving ethnic cleansing. Even during the heyday of the peace process in the 1990s the number of settlers doubled. In short, Jewish settlement is a policy that is so central to Israel it has never been willing to curtail it, even for the prize of peace. As ex-Israeli Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan put it back in 1983, “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it is scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”   

Yet all this is so unnecessary. The settlements are illegal, they violate international humanitarian law; international human rights law, a 2004 International Court of Justice ruling, numerous UN Security Council, Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions, and the Quartet’s oft-cited Roadmap. In addition, as Edward Said pointed out, they are also an insurmountable road block to peace. Drawing an analogy with the Northern Ireland peace process he asked how those talks would have progressed if whilst they were ongoing the British had settled hundreds of thousands of militant Scottish Protestants in the republican heartlands of south Armagh and Tyrone. 

Yet all this can be resolved; all that needs happen is that Israel be held to the same standards of law as every other state in the world agrees to be held to. In this context then, it is quite ludicrous for Netanyahu to call upon the settlers he encourages, funds and protects to show restraint. Restraint rather is what the Palestinian Authority has been showing for years whilst it implements the Roadmap and awaits the international community to wake up to Israel’s fundamental mendacity and actually get around to implementing the standards they signed up for.

– Richard Irvine is based in Belfast, Ireland. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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