Letter to the Editor
For Israel, colonization more important than peace
Israel’s settlement project is about far more than just the 600,000 settlers who have migrated into the Palestinian Territories. Israel dominates all of the land required to build critical infrastructure, like power lines and highways, and many settlements control access points to water and fertile land. Not only does Israel exploit these resources, but it also denies Palestinians the right to do the same. For example, the government has all but eradicated the Palestinian communities that used to cultivate the fertile land of the Jordan Valley – the military demolished over 100 Palestinian structures in the Valley just last year – and Israeli settlements now dominate the area. The remaining Palestinian farms have difficulty irrigating crops because Israel allocates most of the available water to settler farms. Palestinian homes and business also suffer from water shortages, especially during the summer, when the tap can run dry for weeks at a time. The Palestinian Bedouin community in the South Hebron Hills lives under Israeli power lines that serve a nearby settlement, yet Israel refuses to connect the village as is required of occupying powers by international law. A local NGO built sustainable solar and wind generators to satisfy the community’s basic needs. Israel responded by issuing demolition orders, arguing that these installations were built without permits, which the Israeli government refuses to grant to Palestinians living in the 62 percent of the West Bank that Israel directly controls.
The entire international community has demanded Israel end these illegal practices, which violate international law, and yet Israeli policy remains devoted to expanding the settlements rather than limiting their growth. When Israel evacuated 9,000 settlers from Gaza in 2005, it allowed 12,215 Israelis to move into the West Bank during the same period. In late 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to freezing settlement expansion when it agreed to the Annapolis framework for peace. The same government then announced 2,300 tenders for construction in settlements during the twelve months that followed, almost seventeen times the 137 announced during the year preceding the negotiations. During the 2010 settlement freeze, Netanyahu publicly invited Palestinians to the negotiating table, but privately refused to provide Israel’s starting positions, rendering productive negotiations impossible. He has since used the failure of those talks to argue that settlements are not an obstacle to peace. Between October 2011 and March 2012, Israel approved construction of Givat Hamatos, the first entirely new settlement block to be built since 1997, and legalized Shvut Rachel, a settler outpost that had previously been illegal even under Israeli law. Both have set a dangerous precedent that has encouraged ideological settlers to seize more land. Just as he enforced an Israeli court order to remove one settler family from the West Bank city of Hebron last week, Netanyahu approved 800 new homes in the Har Homa settlement saying, “The principle that has guided me is to strengthen the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].”
Even the peace process itself has become a tool for managing occupation. The Oslo Accords, which granted Palestinians living in the West Bank limited sovereignty over 11 percent of the West Bank, made it possible for Israel to remove itself from Palestinian civil affairs, while continuing to deny Palestinians freedom of movement, control their own borders and air space, and access to technologies critical for economic development. Since Israel signed the Accords in 1993, the rate at which it settles the West Bank has almost doubled. Meanwhile, the international community and Palestinian tax-payers have covered the cost of keeping four million Palestinians under occupation.
Endless expansion of Israeli settlements has convinced Palestinians that Israel has no intention of allowing them to build a viable state. Palestinians view Israel’s policies, and its manipulation of negotiations in order to advance those policies, as proof that Israel means only to colonize the rest of their land. To state that settlements are anything less than a major impediment to the peace process is to admit blatant disregard for the most fundamental of Palestinian concerns, and it suggests that Israel is uninterested in making peace.
Jacob Chase-Lubitz graduated Dickinson in 2010. He lives in Ramallah, Palestine, where he serves as a Project Manager for the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy. You can follow him at facebook.com/jchaselubitz.