Israel should halt its colonisation drive

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has postponed until Oct 4 his decision on whether or not to proceed with negotiations with Israel in the hope that the US can reach a compromise over Israeli colony construction in the occupied West Bank.

He has repeatedly threatened to walk out of talks, resumed early this month, if Israel does not renew a partial curb on new housing construction. When this measure expired Sunday, settler activists began laying foundations for scores of new housing units in eight colonies across the West Bank.  A building boom is likely to commence next week at the end of a Jewish religious holiday which has closed down the government and many firms.

Some colonists are laying foundations as quickly as possible in order to force the right-wing coalition under Binyamin Netanyahu to allow them to proceed with completion even if new curbs are introduced.

Other settlers have decided to go ahead with what is called ‘light construction’, which enables them to build family homes within two months at a cost of $70,000. Adopting this system enables colonists to complete and move into new homes before the authorities take steps to halt projects. Once settler families are installed, the Israeli courts are reluctant to take action against offenders or order demolition of homes.

Go ahead

Two thousand housing units are ready for construction: these have essential planning permissions as well as the go-ahead from the defence ministry. Another 11,000 units need only the ministry permit.

Peace Now, an Israeli organisation which tracks colony construction and expansion, said 600 units in 60 settlements (out of 121 recognised colonies) have been started in violation of the partial moratorium.

Since the average for the period of the curb is 1,130 units, this amounts to a 50 per cent drop in new construction. But Peace Now makes the point that the fall in over-all building was only 16 per cent. Other sources put that figure at 10 per cent.  Peace Now settlement tracker Dror Etkes dubbed the ‘freeze’ a public relations gimmick and said it had little impact on colony construction.

Building is going on everywhere in the settlements. The government pre-empted the ‘PR freeze’ by granting a large number of permits and allowing building to go ahead ahead of imposition. The government also granted ‘exceptions’ for public buildings like schools and synagogues and turned a ‘blind eye’ to violations.

Nasser al-Kidwa, a senior official in Abbas’ Fatah movement, said settlement expansion has nearly reached the point of no return and could finish off the idea of the two-state solution involving the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. UN agencies and human rights groups warn that Israeli settlements and infrastructure now take up more than 40 per cent of the West Bank, making it impossible for Palestinians to build a viable state.

Kidwa stated, “It’s not a matter of choice now. Either you (Israelis) continue with the colonisation of the land and thus end the two-state solution or you stop (construction) now and negotiate in good faith”.

He said that if the talks fail, both sides will suffer. It would be “very messy, very difficult, very painful, very bloody for everybody, for a long time to come. But we will not be the party that actually destroyed the possibility of achieving peace on the basis of a two-state solution.”

US President Barack Obama and European leaders fully understand the situation but have failed to exert significant pressure on Israel to make it change its behaviour. Since it has enjoyed their full support for 60 years, it has no intention altering its policies now.
While the US has urged Israel to extend the notional curb in order to save the negotiations, Washington has also called on the Arabs to normalise relations with Israel to encourage it to pay the Palestinians’ price for peace: an independent state in 22 per cent of geographic Palestine represented by East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. However, the Arabs insist that they will pursue normal relations with Israel only after it withdraws from all Palestinian and Syrian land occupied in 1967.

Consequently unless Israel halts its colonisation drive, there can be no resolution of the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict. Violence could erupt at any time, condemning strategic West Asia to another century of instability and warfare. US and other western interests in this region and the Muslim world are increasingly threatened by Washington’s long-term support for Israel and by the US occupation of Iraq. US allies, including India and Pakistan, can expect to be targeted by militant Muslims whose core  grievance is the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people by Israeli colonisation of their homeland.

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