x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Israel’s unwavering reply: settlements

Israel's relentless pursuit of its settlement expansion policy is being met by diplomatic response from the Palestinians, but for how much longer?

There only seems to be one Israeli response to anything the Palestinians do: build more settler homes in the occupied territories. When the Palestinians agreed to join the US-sponsored peace talks last year, Israel responded by announcing 1,200 new homes. When the talks finally collapsed nine months later, Israelis responded by reissuing tenders for hundreds of new settler homes in East Jerusalem.

In between those two events, Israel had progressed approval of 13,851 new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem – the fastest rate since the occupation began in 1967. In that context, is there any surprise Israel responded to the Palestinian unity government by announcing 3,300 new settler homes? After all, encroaching on land intended to be the future Palestinian state has become their default response.

The Palestinians unsuccessfully sought a settlement freeze to test whether Israel’s commitment to the peace talks was more than just a smokescreen during which they created facts on the ground that will render a Palestinian state unachievable. As must be obvious to everyone now, that smokescreen is exactly Israel’s strategy.

This is a cynical but effective tactic. Every settlement announcement spurs a round of condemnations from the US and other countries that consider the settlements to be illegal under international law. But that clamour soon dies down, leaving the settler movement with an ever bigger footprint, with 540,000 Israelis now living in the West Bank.

The steady feed of settlement announcements also leads to a form of compassion fatigue in global public opinion. Just as with civilian deaths in Syria now or Iraq at the height of its post-invasion civil war, relentlessly repetitive bad news dilutes its impact.

The Palestinians have responded to this latest announcement through peaceful means by appealing to the UN, despite the prospects of success there being uncertain and a long delay inevitable. If proof was needed that this Palestinian administration seeks peace, this is surely it.

Last month, the Israelis were apoplectic when Pope Francis stopped to pray at the separation barrier and coerced him to visit a memorial in Israel to the victims of Palestinian uprisings. If they really want peace, they need to pursue the two-state solution, but the real facts on the ground are that Israel seeks settlement-building over negotiated settlement.