Palestine: On eve of Netanyahu visit, illegal settlements at tipping point

Last year featured a record number of housing demolitions across the West Bank.

In the first ever visit by a serving Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Australia this month as part of an international tour aimed at shoring up Israel’s reputation abroad.

The visit has actually attracted attention — but not the kind Netanyahu would like.

In the wake of a growing corruption scandal around the PM and the recent passage of the so-called regularisation law that retrospectively “legalises” illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, the situation of Palestinian communities across the occupied territories is becoming increasingly desperate.

With increasing rates of demolitions of Palestinian houses, Netanyahu’s whirlwind international tour seems to be about shoring up both his and Israel’s reputations in the face of criticism over the contentious law.

Last year featured a record number of housing demolitions across the West Bank, which led to a record number of displaced people — of which more than half are minors. In what amounts to a policy of “de-Palestinianising” previously Palestinian territories, the numbers of demolitions and displacements last year outstripped 2014 and 2015 combined.

The destruction of Palestinian homes and the displacement of Palestinian families across the West Bank have combined with the ever-growing numbers of illegal Israeli settlements to set the stage to complete the de facto annexation of the whole West Bank.

The West Bank is divided into three areas. Area C, for example, is under direct Israeli administrative control and makes up 60% of the West Bank. The practical consequences of Israeli administration of security and land management includes almost total refusal of any Palestinian application for building permits.

Palestinians are effectively prevented from building on about 70% of Area C.

Palestinians in the area also face outright seizures of property for live firing exercises (declaring a “closed military zone”), encroachment onto their land by the notorious “separation barrier” (as Israel calls the Apartheid Wall), the declaration of areas as “state lands” that can only be used by Israelis, and even “nature reserves” from which Palestinians are forbidden.

Responses around the world to the regularisation bill, passed on February 6, have been muted. No leader or foreign minister has really challenged the tired orthodoxy of the two-state solution.

However, a dramatic exception came on February 15 when Donald Trump used a joint press conference with Netanyahu on February 15 to seemingly imply support for a one-state solution — in which Israel would exercise total control over historic Palestine.

Of course, being Trump, the actual meaning of his statement was unclear. One interpretation of Trump’s garbled comments was support for officially establishing what increasingly exists on the ground: one state with two very different systems — or apartheid, as many observers label it.

For their part, Germany, France and Britain have issued cautious statements about the dangers posed to the two-state solution by the new law and growth of Israeli settlements. European Union representatives came closest to outright condemnation by warning that the law would entrench a single state, but with very different rights and consequences for Israeli versus Palestinian citizens.

Israel’s own attorney-general has said that he will not defend the bill should it be brought before Israel’s high court.

Former Australian politicians have queued up to offer modest support to the idea of Palestinian statehood, while neatly sidestepping the issues brought to a head by the regularisation law and growing demolitions and evictions.

Former Labor PM Bob Hawke and Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans have joined calls to recognise the state of Palestine — albeit with a view to continuing negotiations for a peaceful, two-state solution.

Another former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr has been the most critical. Carr dared suggest the “slew of additional settlements on the West Bank” might indicate Israel’s desire to annex the West Bank and finally torpedo any remaining chance of a negotiated settlement.

Naming settlements as an obstacle to peace between Israel and Palestine is a bold move — and will most likely be ignored by Israel.

What almost no one outside progressive media is saying — even the EU — is that the never-ending expansion of settlements are an insurmountable stumbling block to any negotiated solution. Nor is it noted that this is actually what Israel intended all along.

The more Israeli settlements and Palestinian housing demolitions frustrate peace talks, the more time Israel creates for itself to consolidate its hold on stolen Palestinian territories.

While mainstream media is distracted by Netanyahu’s PR tour, the expansion of Israeli settlements continues unchecked and towns throughout the West Bank are rapidly becoming de-Palestinianised.

[Protests have been called against Netanyahu’s visit for Melbourne on February 19 and Sydney on February 23. Visit the Australian Friends of Palestine Association website for details.]

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