Israel Moves Forward with More Settlement Construction

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

January 15, 2018

Reports from Israel suggest the imminent expansion of illegal settlements in Palestine. U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem seems to have emboldened the conservative voices within Israel to push for yet more construction. Such a move comes after an already-heightened construction period in 2017 and a correspondingly large number of Palestinians forcibly removed from their homes. Meanwhile, the detention of a Palestinian teenager for slapping an IDF soldier has galvanized many in the region, with many challenging the Palestinian authorities to take a more defiant stance with Israel.

The Israeli watchdog organization Peace Now has revealed in a recent report published by Ma’an News that the Israeli government is in the process of approving over 1,300 “illegal settlement units,” a move which comes after a settlement-heavy 2017: “The Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee is expected to approve the promotion of at least 1,329 housing units in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, according to settlement watchdog Peace Now. In a statement released on Friday, Peace Now said that the committee published its agenda, and is expected to approve the new settlement units next Wednesday, January 10…. Meanwhile, Israeli rights group B’Tselem reported that in 2016 Palestinians experienced the highest number of Israeli demolitions since the group began recording the incidents. At the same time, Peace now reported that Israel’s illegal settlement construction in the West Bank increased by 34 percent in 2016, with Israeli authorities initiating construction on 1,814 new settler housing units.”

Despite these reports of increased settlement activity, conservative Jewish groups continue to excoriate the Netanyahu government for not moving fast enough on the construction front. For example, according to an article by Arutz Sheva’s Shimon Cohen, “YESHA Council Chairman Hananel Dorani sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu regarding the fact that despite reports and announcements of hundreds of new housing units in Judea and Samaria, there is a silent and worrying freeze on the ground…. Dorani expressed hope that by February, all the promises made in 2017 will be fulfilled. ‘When U.S. President Donald Trump opens an international window, all the reasons why the Prime Minister hasn’t advanced construction no longer exist’, he insisted. ‘Now is the time. The idea that these projects will be stuck because there isn’t enough manpower is unthinkable.’”

Such voices seem to be particularly emboldened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Yoaz Hendel, writing for Yedioth Ahronoth, argues that the government ought to take advantage of the atmosphere created by Mr. Trump: “The Likud Central Committee’s decision to apply Israeli law to Judea and Samaria, on the other hand, suffers from two main flaws: exaggeration and an unwillingness to manage the conflict, but simply to keep going. With all its festivity, the decision raises a smoke screen over the fact that successive right-wing governments haven’t annexed a single inch in Judea and Samaria. We are basically being fooled. There is no real process aimed at legally creating established facts on the ground. The State of Israel is failing to take advantage of Donald Trump’s presence in the White House to advance right-wing ideology. At best, it is putting out fires and promising the same 300 homes in Beit El over and over again.”

Such voices have alarmed some within Israel, including Times of Israel’s Naomi Chazan, who worries that such actions may prove ultimately fatal to Israeli democracy: “This move, studiously avoided by every single Likud leader to date, apparently sounds the death knell to the two-state solution. It also flies in the face of Israel’s own founding principles. It is as if not only Israel’s survival, but also its character, has become dependent on its ability to contain the Palestinians rather than on pursuing its vision of providing a homeland for the Jewish people and ensuring equality, prosperity and justice for all its citizens…. The upcoming year will force Israelis to choose. Either they can stand by and watch their country devolve into an occupying autocracy or they can reaffirm their commitment to building a full-fledged democracy for all citizens. Israel’s survival relies on their ability to shed current delusions and realize that they can no longer juggle so many contradictions without suffering their consequences.”

Such concerns were expressed even before news of the arrest and detention of Ahed Al Tamimi, a 16-year old Palestinian girl accused of having slapped an Israeli soldier. Arab News’s Chris Doyle points out that the Israeli government’s actions reveal its fear that such acts of defiance may become more widespread: “Israeli authorities — sounding not so different to, say, the Iranian or Syrian regimes — claim Ahed’s actions were incitement. To them, Ahed was dangerous because she showed defiance; she faced up to the occupation as opposed to accepting it or giving in to it. This is what is dangerous and the Israeli top brass knows it. Allow actions such as Ahed’s to pass and the following day there will be 10 such cases; within a week, thousands, and the West Bank might slip out of their control….  Like so many others, Ahed has been transferred for detention inside Israel, which is against international law, and had her detention extended four times. But does anyone care?”

Jordan Times’s Hasan Abu Nimah believes that Tamimi’s actions can provide a new model for Palestinian officials, one that takes back the initiative in an act of defiance rather than compromise: “The Palestinians need to usher a new strategy. They need to radically, though rationally, reconsider their situation. Both the Palestinians and the so-called international community should learn the lessons of the disastrous experience of the post-Madrid peace-making era; both should recognize their poor management and handling of the process. The long-standing Palestinian conviction that only by exercising limitless moderation, by making successive concessions and generous compromises, and by constantly reducing their rights, they would secure international support, was wrong. Rather than adapting to their occupiers’ needs they should have held on to their legitimate rights as defined by international law.”

That, as Jonathan Cook points out in a recent op-ed for The National, may be the lasting legacy of Ahed Al Tamimi. By giving a face to the suffering of the Palestinian people, Al Tamimi may provide the spark for a new form of resistance: “Western commentators have largely denied Ahed the kind of effusive support offered to democracy protestors in places like China and Iran…. She has also given troubling form to the until-now anonymised children Israel accuses of stone-throwing…. But aside from exposing the sickness of a society addicted to dehumanising and oppressing Palestinians, including children, Ahed’s case raises the troubling question of what kind of resistance Israelis think Palestinians are permitted…. Ahed and Nabi Saleh have shown that popular unarmed resistance – if it is to discomfort Israel and the world – cannot afford to be passive or polite. It must be fearless, antagonistic and disruptive. Most of all, it must hold up a mirror to the oppressor. Ahed has exposed the gun-wielding bully lurking in the soul of too many Israelis.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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