Israel ignores US on Jewish housing issue

Israel ignores US on Jewish housing issue

The US is critical of the assertion that forcing Jews out of the West Bank would amount to "ethnic cleansing."

Israel’s strongest and more influential backers, the US and Europe, have been shar-ply critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that forcing Israeli Jewish settlers out of the West Bank would amount to “ethnic cleansing.”

This is despite Israel planting settlements since conquering the territory in 1967. This effort is of course against international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the conduct of occupying powers.

Since January, Israel has retroactively legalised 2,706 housing units for Israelis in West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements, regarded by the UN and the global community as territory where citizens of the occupier are barred from settling. In 1993, when the Oslo Accord, envisioning the two-state solution, was signed, there were 1,10,000 Israeli settlers in  the West Bank and 1,46,000 in East Jerusalem. Today, there are 8,00,000  living in 150 Jewish settlements in these areas. They constitute 13% of Israel's Jewish population and a powerful political bloc.

This tactic of approving housing units has succeeded  the earlier practice of granting legality to unauthorised settlements built as outposts by wildcat settlers on West Bank and East Jerusalem. Housing units appear to be less of a land grab or a threat to the internationally supported two-state solution – a Palestinian state next to Israel – for the century-old Arab-Israeli dispute.

Of the quartet – the US, UN, European Union (EU) and Russia – the US and EU have not been fooled by the unit-by-unit expansion tactic in the longterm strategy adopted by the  Zionist movement in the late 19th century for the colonisation of Palestine. Political pressure is not going to deter Israel's ruling  class from reaching this goal although the Israeli peace camp  continues to argue the majority of Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

The Israeli government, headed by right-wing Netanyahu and key members of his cabinet are not only  supporters of settlement building but residents of settlements. Israelis
are encouraged by the government to move to settlements by subsidised housing, tax breaks and allowances as well as constant investment in settlement housing and infrastructure. Netanyahu and his  ministers oppose the emergence of a Palestinian state although he has,  on occasion, voiced support for the “two-state” formula.

Settlement construction and expansion is at  Palestinian expense. Israel expropriates Palestinian land and  bulldozes Palestinian homes to make way for settlements and roads, military camps and infrastructure for settlements. Israeli demolitions  of Palestinian structures tripled between January-March 2016 over the average rate of 50 per month between 2012-15.

Most destruction occurred in the 60% of the West Bank within total Israeli control under the Oslo Accord, land which was expected by Palestinians and Israeli peacemakers to be ceded to the Palestinian state.

Palestinian expense

Scores of buildings, wells, schools and clinics  constructed for Palestinians by USAID and EU assistance have been dest-royed including 150 financed by the EU  during the first quarter of this year. There is an ongoing battle over the Bedouin hamlet of Susiya in the West Bank.

Israel seeks to bulldoze its miserable huts and sheep enclosures to make way for the  expansion of a settlement of the same name. Germany contribu-ted solar panels to give residents electricity, Spain built a school, Ireland donated water pump, Italy. Norway and others provided a playground  and a shipping container to use as an office.

Israel had previously tried not to anger the EU by  avoiding structures it had financed. The EU and member states are major donors to Israel and its largest trading partner. Expropriations and demolitions take place against a background of conflict with the Palestinians who have come to feel  they have no future in their native land. Consequently, since last October, mainly youngsters have been lashing out at Israelis, attacking civilians, soldiers, and settlers with knives and bullets.

The two-state solution was meant to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian majority in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River – Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza – by granting Palestinians their own state. However, only a slender Palestin-ian majority has been achieved in line with predictions for 2016.

There are now about 6.37 million Israeli Jews  in this area while there are some 6.4 mn Palestinians, including those who are citizens of Israel. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in  2005 was intended to remove the 1.8-1.9 million Gazans from this equation but since Gaza remains under Israeli control from outside the Strip from land, sea and air, Gaza must be included.

Leading Israelis, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who favoured the two  state solution, have warned that Israel cannot be democratic and have  a Jewish majority if Palestinians are not allowed to form their state. Netanyahu, who hails from the same party, has not listened to his advice.

The US has brushed it aside and granted $38 billion in military aid over the next 20 years, an increase of $0.7 billion a year, although this will be used by Israel to defend its occupation and settlement enterprise.

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