Settlement building as a response to violence is Israel’s worst idea yet

Planning new settlements at a time of civic unrest puts ordinary Israelis at great risk.

Planning new settlements at a time of civic unrest puts ordinary Israelis at great risk 

Jerusalem is simmering. The past month has seen multiple terror attacks, arrests and police shootings in the holy city, with civilians in the line of fire.

In October a three-month-old baby was killed when a Palestinian man rammed a speeding car into a crowd of pedestrians alighting from the Jerusalem Light Rail.

A few days later the prominent Jewish activist Yehuda Glick was shot, shortly after delivering a speech calling for greater Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount. In response, the Israeli government barred all access to the holy site by both Arabs and Jews.

And last week an Israeli police officer and a teenager were killed by a Palestinian in what was dubbed a ‘hit and run attack’ in East Jerusalem. Tensions have been heightened by stone throwing protests over the fatal shootings of two Palestinian teenagers by Israeli police in October.

In the midst of this chaos, which has left Jerusalem’s citizens terrified to go about their daily lives, plans have been approved for two new settlement projects.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved plans for the construction of 500 new settler homes in the Ramat Shlomo suburb of Jerusalem, and 1060 homes in East Jerusalem.

The decision has been met with international dismay; spokesperson for the US State Department Jen Psaki said that the construction was “not conducive to what [the Israeli government] state they want to achieve, which is peace in the region and a two-state solution.”

US-Israel relations are at an all time low, and the summer war in Gaza elicited from EU countries the strongest criticism of Israel in years.

When Netanyahu announced plans for the appropriation of 400 hectares of West Bank land at the end of August, there was global outrage. It seemed to signal that no lessons had been learnt from the seven week war, and indicated that the Israeli government was not seriously committed to a peace deal.

As well as explicitly defying international law, the settlements are tools of deliberate provocation. Any leader genuinely trying to achieve peace would freeze their development while there is violence on the streets, and limit them permanently for the long term.

The UN regards the settlements as illegal because they are on land which was captured in the 1967 war, and hence they are subject to the Geneva Convention which bans construction on occupied land.

Hostilities between settlers and neighbouring Palestinians are commonplace; this week, settlers near Ramallah reportedly set fire to a mosque. Witnesses reported seeing pages of the Qu’ran turning to ashes – a revenge attack is almost inevitable.

There have also been distressing stories this autumn of settlers torching Palestinian olive trees. Olive oil is the limping Palestinian economy’s primary export, and the destruction of orchards robs farmers of their livelihood.

Last month, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that a young woman had been beaten up by a group of settlers while picking olives with her children in the district of Salfit.

What is especially distressing in the current climate is the incredibly ill-advised use of settlements as a revenge tactic against Palestinians. When the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found in July, Netanyahu and defence minister Moshe Ya’alon proposed a new wave of settlement building and new houses built ‘in their memory’.

How they imagined that putting yet more Israeli settlers at risk of violent reprisals from Palestinians who view them as a symbol of the occupation is beyond me. The building of settlements will not punish the perpetrators of the kidnapping – who were hunted down and killed by the Israeli military – nor will it punish Hamas, who rely on facetious actions like this to add Palestinian supporters to their ranks.

The only people it will punish are the Palestinian villagers and Bedouins whose homes and livelihoods are demolished to make room for the new units.

Israel should know their enemy by now. When the huge new settlement plans were announced at the end of August, right-wing economy minister Naftali Bennett said ”Building is our answer to murder.”

And for a small yet potent element in Palestinian society, murder is the answer to buildings. Why is the Israeli government playing into their hands?

This is not to excuse the actions of the terrorists who have caused such tragedy and suffering over the past few weeks. There is no justification for attacking civilians because of the actions of their government. But internationally, negotiations have to be made with the people who are in power. Under occupation, the peace seeking actions of Palestinians seem futile.

This is why it was so important when Sweden became the first EU country to officially recognise a Palestinian state. It was a concrete step towards international action to end the impasse; it showed Netanyahu that Europe is losing patience, and that it believes the Palestinian right to self determination to be a crucial component in ending terrorism against Israel.

Marking a significant change in UK mood, Parliament voted unilaterally this month to back the recognition of a Palestinian state. That state is one which encompasses the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and one in which Israeli settlements are trespassing.

It may take a long time for international statements such as this to have an effect on Netanyahu and his hardliners. But until Palestinians have a secure state, violent elements within their society will continue to visit their frustrations on undeserving citizens.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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