When occupation is made legal – The latest chapter in a saga of expropriation and humiliation

 

The law approved by the Knesset legalizes Israel’s territorial occupation and adds a step to Netanyahu’s run towards the cancellation of any viability of the two-state solution

 

Last Monday the Israeli Knesset approved 60 to 52 the so-called Regulation Bill. According to this law, about 4,000 Israeli settlements built in the West Bank on private Palestinian land will obtain retroactive legitimization as long as the settlers can prove that they were not aware that land was Palestinian private property. Once this is proved, they will obtain the legal permit to remain in their houses, while the legitimate Palestinian owners will have two possibilities: either accept an alternative plot of land where such an offer does exist; or accept a financial compensation set by an ad hoc committee created by the Israeli government.

The Regulation Bill results from a proposal advanced over the past months by the ultra-right Jewish Home Party in reaction to the High Court’s decision to dismantle the illegal outpost of Amona. The choice to refer this proposal to the Knesset reveals thus Netanyahu’s need to find an uneasy balance between external and internal pressures. On the one hand, the Israeli PM has to take into account the stance of the international community and avoid policies that might condemn Israel to isolation; on the other hand, Netanyahu is leading a coalition government whose survivability depends on ultra-right parties (such as Jewish Home), which forces him to take into due consideration these parties’ requests.

That the proposal was not only submitted to the Knesset but even received its endorsement is then sign of a whole other series of factors –both internal and external- that characterize and influence today Israel’s politics.

Above all, the law’s approval reveals the high degree of influence that ultra-right groups have managed to carve out for themselves in the current political environment, where fra from being a marginal force they are a leading force capable of directing policies and law. Tightly linked to the ultra-right ascent is that of those groups that support the policy of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and that, over the past months, have obtained important victories (among the latest the announcement that 6,000 new settlements will soon be built).

Finally, the Knesset’s vote comes as latest confirmation of the renewed confidence of the Israeli Right in front of an American administration that has adopted until now a mild line on Israel’s settlements. After Monday’s vote, in fact, Trump’s government limited itself to make reference to a previous comment on how settlements “may not be helpful” in the framework of negotiating a future Israeli-Palestinian peace, but it postponed further comments to the Israeli Supreme Court’s upcoming pronouncement.

Different reactions, instead, have come from the international community, the Palestinian government, and also from leading figures and NGOs within Israel.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has condemned the vote as a violation of international law, and similar words also came from the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs who recalled the UNSC Resolution 2334 recently adopted in condemnation of Israel’s settlements.

In line with the international community was also the reaction of some Israeli NGOs such as Peace Now and Yesh Din that voiced their intention to appeal to the Supreme Court, as well as from the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who warned against the adoption of a law that violates Palestinians’ property rights and who stated his refusal to defend the law.

On its part, the PLO defined the law a “legitimization of theft” that violates international law and ends any prospect of a two-state solution, and it declared its intention to appeal to the ICC to fight the impunity that Israel seems to enjoy in front of a Statute of Rome that should apply to all states.

After Monday’s vote, it is now to be waited for the Supreme Court’s verdict. In any case, the mere fact that the law met the approval of the Knesset confirms how the Israeli government is far from seeking a solution that leads to a Palestinian state ad how it aims on the contrary to have a single Jewish state built on as much land as possible and legitimized by any legal means possible.

 

[Picture Rights: Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]

 

The two dangerous faces of Bibi’s politics

The increase in the number of demolitions of Palestinian houses and the increase in the number of Israeli settlements reveal a dangerous politics embraced by Tel Aviv that the international community should try to counter

 

 

A recent report published by OCHA (the UN agency that deals with the coordination of humanitarian affairs) on the conditions of the Palestinian population in the Palestinian Occupied Territories shed light on some worrying data that deserve attention and require an immediate political response.

According to the data released by the report, in fact, since the beginning of 2016 there has been an increase in the number of demolitions of Palestinian houses perpetrated by the Israeli State. In particular, OCHA reports 684 building as having been demolished since January 2016 – a figure which implies an increase by 25% with respect to the previous year.

 

These demolitions –though harmful for the Palestinian population as a whole- interest in particular East Jerusalem and Area C (a territory corresponding to 60% of the West Bank that according to the Oslo Agreements of 1993 is under Israeli administration), which since the Six-Day War of 1967 have been one of the most delicate issues in the territorial disputes between Israel and Palestine.

The reported demolitions -that mostly involve private houses but also public buildings such as schools and health centres- are justified by Israel either as punitive measures carried out against families whose members have attempted the security of the Israeli state or on the basis of questionably legal pretexts, chief among them the claim that the demolished houses had been built without the required permits.

 

Regarding this last point, however, it is necessary to underline the difficulties encountered by Palestinians when they wish to build houses and need to submit the requests of the relevant permits to Tel Aviv: according to OCHA’s data, in fact, between 2010 and 2014 Palestinian citizens submitted 2,020 requests of which Israel only approved 33. Moreover, according to the agency WAFA, a Palestinian family may be forced to wait up to 12 years and pay up to 70,000 $ in order to obtain the necessary permits.

In front of such state of things, thus, it is not surprising that most Palestinian families proceed with the construction of their houses without waiting for the compulsory but unobtainable permits.

 

The rise in the demolition of Palestinian houses, then, is accompanied by another policy in worrying ascent: the construction of Israeli settlements in those same areas (especially around Hebron and Nablus) where the Palestinian houses have been demolished and where Palestinians are prevented from building.

According to OCHA, today 600,00 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – a number which has more than doubled since the Oslo Agreement and which is in continuous rise: as reported by the watchdog Peace Now, in fact, only last Tuesday the Israeli government approved the construction of 285 new settlements in the West Bank.

 

The reasons for this double-faced Israeli action (now on the rise with the government in the hands of politicians such as Netanyahu, Liberman and Bennett) are of political nature and find their roots in the political calculations of the current establishment.

 

As far as East Jerusalem is concerned, the growing demolition of Palestinian houses is part of the broader politics embraced by the current government and aimed at removing Palestinians from the city by forcing them to build somewhere else, and cancelling any physical, historical and socio-cultural link between the Palestinian population and Jerusalem in order to make of the city an undisputed Jewish urban centre.

As far as the West Bank is concerned, the coordinated policies of demolition and settlement clearly aim to grab as much land as possible and increase the number of Israeli-Jewish inhabitants.

 

By so doing, the same prospect of having in future a Palestinian state is put into question and the legitimacy of the Palestinian national vindications is badly weakened. If the Palestinian population has no land nor houses in East Jerusalem and in the Area C of the West Bank, in fact, how can it justify in the eyes of the international community its quest for a national state comprising the whole of the West Bank and having East Jerusalem as its capital?

Moreover, by so doing, the credibility of the Palestinian leadership (both before the international community and before the Palestinians themselves) is questioned – and this is an aspect of the story in which Israel is particularly interested. Indeed, the more the Palestinian leadership has a faltering credibility and a disputable internal legitimacy, the more it will struggle to elaborate a clear political line and coherent demands, thus making Bibi’s game.

 

From what said thus far, it emerges how the main consequence of Israel’s politics is the weakening of any realistic prospect of a two-state solution. Indeed, with the constant demolition of Palestinian houses, the expulsion of their inhabitants from ever wider areas, and the construction in their place of Israeli settlements where Tel Aviv incentivizes as many Jewish Israelis as possible to settle, the possibility of having a Palestinian state comprising the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the whole of the West Bank becomes ever more difficult to be demographically justified.

In other words, the more Israel drives the Palestinians away the more the two-state solution itself is pushed away.

 

Among the other consequences of Israel’s politics, we should then consider the embittering of the political-diplomatic relations between Israel and a Palestinian Authority that finds it (reasonably) difficult to see in the Jewish state a partner sincerely committed to a bilateral solution; and the weakening within the Palestinian political realm of the more moderate factions to the advantage of the more radical fringes opposed to any negotiation and compromise.

 

The data released by OCHA shed thus light on a worrying reality, behind which it is possible to see what is Israel’s de facto policy of annexation.

Nevertheless, these data have received little attention: the international community, and in particular actors close to Israel such as the USA and the EU, are in fact focused on other and more pressing issues in the Middle East –namely, the war in Syria, the deterioration of the security scenario in Lybia, and the threat of the jihadist terrorism embodied by the so-called Islamic State.

Yet, Washington and Brussels, when approaching the Middle Eastern political reality, should remember that what happens in Israel-Palestine has inevitable consequences on the balances of the whole region and therefore deserves constant attention. Acknowledging this, the USA and the EU should exploit the diplomatic influence and the economic and commercial leverages they have with respect to Israel, so as to prevent dangerous dynamics that might not only exasperate the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority but also come to involve in a spiral of insecurity other actors (state and non-state alike) that are active in the region.

 

[In the picture, Ariel, one of Israel’s settlements in the West bank]