Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 February 2020

Hebron Palestinians: new settlement plan dashes hopes for peace

Residents of Palestinian city suffer under Israeli security measures for existing settlers

Two Palestinian women approach a checkpoint on the Israeli-controlled Shuhada Street in the West Bank town of Hebron. AFP
Two Palestinian women approach a checkpoint on the Israeli-controlled Shuhada Street in the West Bank town of Hebron. AFP

Palestinians in Hebron say Israeli plans to build another settlement inside the West Bank city will make their lives even more difficult and peace harder to achieve.

“When they sent us the document to inform us about the project they it made clear they don’t want any peace,” said Yousef Al Jabari, deputy mayor of Hebron’s Palestinian-run municipality.

Israeli security measures to protect settlements in Hebron already bar Palestinians from using a main road in the city, forcing them to take long detours, and subject them to screenings and often arrest at military checkpoints.

Palestinians also face regular attacks from settlers and a campaign of evictions and demolitions from Israeli authorities.

“We already live under apartheid and now Israel plans to make our life even worse," Omar, a taxi driver, told The National.

The announcement of the new settlement in December is part of an increasingly assertive stance by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies regarding the occupied West Bank.

“There was no West Bank separate from the rest of the land,” Mr Netanyahu said at a policy conference in Jerusalem this month.

He said Israelis “never lost their right” to live in the area.

“The only thing we lost temporarily was the ability to exercise the right,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Israeli police push a Palestinian youth away as they guard Israeli settlers touring the old city and market of Hebron. AFP
Israeli police push a Palestinian youth away as they guard Israeli settlers touring the old city and market of Hebron. AFP

With another general election approaching on March 2, he is trying to gain enough support to avoid the political deadlock that denied him another five-year term after elections in April and September last year.

His plans to annex occupied lands and build more settlements there, in breaches of international law, have been emboldened by a seemingly supportive US government under President Donald Trump.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in November that the US no longer considered the settlements to be in breach of international law, reversing Washington’s stance of four decades.

Mr Pompeo told the policy conference in Jerusalem this month that the Trump administration’s position would advance US efforts for Palestinian-Israeli peace.

Mr Trump summoned Mr Netanyahu and his main election rival, Benny Gantz, to Washington this week to reveal a long-awaited US plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Palestinian leaders have boycotted the initiative after the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and moved its embassy there months later.

It is not clear whether the plan will affect Mr Netanyahu’s promises to impose Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea and other parts of the West Bank, starting with the settlements in Hebron.

“They can’t do that, it’s a violation of international law,” said Khaled, a shopkeeper in the souq near the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron’s historic quarter.

“But it doesn’t matter. They always do what they want because the US is with them. We just want peace so we can work like before."

Business has been bad since Israel closed the nearby Shuhada Street to Palestinian pedestrians and vehicles in 1994 after a settler killed 29 worshippers at the mosque.

More than 100 people were injured during the shooting.

The Israeli government of then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin also closed all Palestinian shops on Shuhada Street and converted a bus station in the area into a military base.

Three years later, the city was divided into two sections: H1, under Palestinian Authority control, and H2 administered by Israel, where about 800 settlers live in four settlements under heavy military guard.

“Since the closure of Shuhada Street we can’t sell anything. How are we supposed to support our families? How can we continue like this?” asked Mohammed, another shopkeeper in the souq.

Israel proposes to build the new settlement, which Defence Minister Naftali Bennett said would double the number of settlers in Hebron, on the site of the Old Market.

But the market is part of the Old City, which was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2017 despite opposition from Israel and the US.

“If they go on and demolish the Old Market, we will ask the international community to come and see who is the real terrorist here,” Mr Al Jabari said.

“They want to Judaise the old town but we will oppose this project with our lawyers."

Yishai Fleisher, a settler spokesman, said the municipality’s opinion did not matter.

“There are two projects aimed to build more houses,” he said, referring to another settlement approved in October 2018.

“We did that in the past and we will continue to do so. We belong here.”

The closure of Shuhada Street forces Bassam, a local guide, to take a long detour to reach the H1 area from Tarek Ibn Ziad Square.

“Will Israel build new settlements? Maybe, who knows?” Bassam said. “But we will stay here. One day there will be peace, inshallah.”

Updated: January 28, 2020 02:24 AM

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