Israel continues to steal Arab land

By Kim Bullimore

On August 26, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu offered to freeze the building of new Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank for nine months. Netanyahu’s announcement has been presented in the Western corporate media as a “victory” for US President Barack Obama, who has been pressing Israel to halt its illegal settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in order to be able to get the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” restarted.

Obama’s  Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, had been pressing for a 12-month freeze on illegal settlement activity in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both illegally occupied by Israel since June 1967. Netanyahu, however, has ruled out any halt to the Israeli takeover of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, which Israel formally annexed in 1980 through its “Jerusalem Law”. This declared that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”. This Israeli law was declared “null and void” and a violation of international law by UN Security Council Resolution 478, approved by 14-0 votes (with the US abstaining) in August 1980. A July 2004 statement of the International Court of Justice expressed the view that all countries are under an obligation not to recognise Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.

According to the August 27 Tel Aviv Haaretz daily, Netanyahu’s settlement “freeze” offer excludes some 2500 housing units on which construction has already started and allows the erection of new “public buildings”, mainly schools, in existing settlements. Following the meeting with Mitchell, at which Netanyahu made his phony “freeze” settlement offer, the two issued a joint statement saying that “good progress” had been made in their discussions.

Writing in the August 12 Jordan Times, Hasan Abu Nimah, a former Jordanian ambassador to the UN, observed that “by demanding a temporary freeze [on Israel’s illegal settlements], the US is indirectly accepting what has been built so far, as well as the idea that Israel is entitled at the end of the agreed period to resume construction if its ever-escalating demands are not met”. He went on to argue that the notion of a “temporary freeze” allows Israel to shift the debate “from the illegality, under international law, of Israel’s settlements towards something totally superficial: the pace of construction”.

Jerusalem resident Joharah Baker, a regular writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), made a similar point two months ago. In a June 29 article on the Palestine Chronicle website, she argued that “a ‘temporary’ freeze is just that, temporary, which implies that later down the line Israel will not be obligated to maintain this offer and resume construction”. She correctly noted that the notion of a “temporary freeze” is simply part of Israel’s decades-long policy of trying “to stall a final agreement and permanent solution”, in order to allow the Israeli rulers to create “facts on the ground, which then must be negotiated”. Baker added that “today, instead of talking about a complete dismantlement of illegal settlements and outposts on occupied Palestinian land, we are talking about the minutest of details”, such as a “temporary freeze” of construction of illegal settlements.

In 2003, as part of the US president George Bush’s “Road Map” for peace, Israel agreed to freeze settlement construction. However, the August 19 Washington Post noted that since then “the Jewish population in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, has increased from about 224,000 to about 290,000”. There are another estimated 180,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements built in East Jerusalem.

The Obama administration and the corporate media have also sought to play up Netanyahu’s pledge to remove 23 “illegal outposts” in the West Bank. However, very little has been said about the fact that most of these illegal outposts are not populated.  As Khaled Amayreh noted in July 23-29 Egyptian Al Ahram weekly, these outposts are “merely used as rallying point[s] for settlers who are bent on preserving the occupation”.

Where illegal outposts are populated, the Israeli government has repeatedly dragged its feet on removing the settlers living there. A point in case is the illegal outpost of Migron, which was built in 2002 on privately owned Palestinian land. Despite Israel’s courts in 2006 recognising that the land is legally owned by Palestinians and that it should be evacuated, the Israel government has petitioned the Israeli courts to not be compelled to remove the illegal settlers until mid 2010. According to Amos Harel, writing in the July 7 Haaretz, when the settlers are removed from Migron, they will simply be transferred to the neighbouring illegal colony of Adam, where Israel is planning to build 50 new homes for the settlers.

Among the new illegal settlements in East Jerusalem that Israel is planning to build is Ma’aleh David, which is to be constructed in the middle of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Rasa al-Amud. According to the August 25 Haaretz, this new Israeli colony will consist of 104 “high-end” housing units, a swimming pool, a country club, library, synagogue, kindergarten and mikveh (a Jewish ritual purification bath). Haaretz noted that the new colony will be connected to the existing illegal colony of Ma’aleh Zeitem, which houses 51 settler families. Currently, Ma’aleh Zeitem is undergoing “natural growth” with another 66 housing units being built. The joint colony blocs will then form the largest Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, with more than 1000 illegal settlers situated in the heart of the Ras al-Amud neighbourhood, home to 14,000 Palestinians.

While the Netanyahu government has continued to build and expand illegal Israeli colonies on stolen Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it has also continued to carry out, with impunity, other human rights abuses against the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Figures from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reveal that in the 11 weeks since Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo, Israeli occupation forces have carried out at least 217 military incursions into the West Bank (an average of around three per day), plus several incursions into Gaza. In addition, at least 169 Palestinian civilians, including 40 children, were kidnapped by Israel and placed in Israeli detention without charge or trial in this same period, while dozens of hectares of Palestinian land was razed.

During the same period, Israel continued to build its apartheid wall, which has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice, while also continuing its collective punishment of the Palestinian people in Gaza by carrying out an illegal blockade of the tiny territory. Despite mounting evidence that Israel carried out a range of war crimes both during and after its war on Gaza in December-January, and the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from that war and the continuing siege of Gaza, Obama has continued to defend Israel’s “right” to blockade the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s continuing colonial drive to steal more and more Palestinian land and the unwillingness of both the US administration and other Western governments to do anything to stop it highlights the need for the continued support for and participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The campaign, which was launched by more than 170 Palestinian organisations in 2005, is starting to have an impact, with more and more unions and other organisations around the world signing onto the campaign. This impact has not gone unnoticed by the Israeli government or its supporters. In a May 7 speech, Howard Kohr, executive director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said that the BDS campaign is now  part of “ordinary political discourse on our TV and radio talk shows; in the pages of our major newspapers and in countless blogs, in town hall meetings, on campuses and city squares . . . More and more they are invading the mainstream discourse, becoming part of the constant and unrelenting drumbeat against Israel.”