Thursday, October 01, 2020

Continued settlement expansion harms negotiations

By Claire Matsunami - March 10, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Settlement Expansion] [Peace Process]

Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

Israeli authorities recently approved extensive measures that will expand illegal settlements in East Jerusalem, part of the occupied Palestinian territory. These actions come in the midst of the latest round of peace talks, and have drawn disapproval from the European Union and the US State Department. 

At the end of January, the Jerusalem Municipal Committee for Planning and Building approved permits for private contractors to build 558 new housing units in three Jewish Settlements in the municipality of Jerusalem. A total of 386 units were approved in Har Homa, 136 in Neve Yaakov and 36 in Pasgat Ze’ev. All three settlements are located in East Jerusalem, but outside the Green Line boundaries of Israel, and are considered illegal by the international community.  

A week later the organization also approved the construction of 350 units in the settlement of East Talpiot, located in East Jerusalem. 

Incentivizing Settlement

New criteria have recently been approved that will add 35 settlements to the “national priorities” list.  This list was originally established in 2009, and provides locations on the list with extra government support. These new criteria, drafted by Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, enable the government to provide increased services to settlement communities that are considered to be in hostile areas with high security risk.  

“The purpose of this support is to raise the standard of living of these citizens and to encourage migration to the West Bank,” said Israeli human rights group B'Tselem in a report publsihed in January. Incentive services, including income tax breaks and huge infrastructural subsidies, will begin in 2015. 

Such measures breach agreements between the US and Israel made before the peace talks began, which prohibit Israel from incentivizing settlement expansion. According to B’Tselem, there are an estimated 531,000 settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.  

Settlements expand as peace talks continue

These developments come in the midst of the latest round of peace talks, with US Secretary of State John Kerry working with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to establish a non-binding agreement regarding future borders and security measures. These peace talks have been going on since the summer of 2013, and are the first in three years.  

The previous talks were put on hold after Israeli refused to comply with the PA’s demand that all settlement expansion activities be put on hold. The Obama administration similarly called for Israel to discontinue settlements, but with Israel’s unconditional denial of these terms, the PA agreed to resume peace talks in July of 2013 following the release of 106 long-term Palestinian prisoners. 

Peace Now recently released a report stating that there was a 123% increase in settlement expansion in 2013.  These developments were a point of contention even before Israel authorities published tenders for 1,400 new housing units shortly after John Kerry’s visit in December, accompanying the release of the most recent group of prisoners. 

In response to these recent developments, PLO spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi issued a statement saying, “Israel is engaging in the deliberate provocation of the Palestinians to drive them to leave the negotiations in protest of Israeli violations.”

Issa Amro, spokesperson for the organization Youth Against Settlements, spoke with the Palestine Monitor. He believes that the continued expansion of settlements is “proof that the Israeli Government is not serious about peace talks.”

Netanyahu demands Palestinians accept Jewish State

In the Prime Minister’s recent speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he called for the Palestinian authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish State, making it a condition for the peace talks, saying: “In recognizing the Jewish state, you would finally making clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict. So recognize the Jewish state.”  

He also implied that Palestinians accept Israel’s borders and give up the right of return, stressing that  “Palestinians to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees, or amputating parts of the Negev and the Galilee.”

Further, in an interview aired Sunday, Netanyahu spoke to Israel Radio about the possibility of freezing settlement expansion. He pointed out that a freeze was agreed upon during talks in 2010, but that a peace agreement was not reached. “Did it deliver anything? I don’t see the point.” He said, “I haven’t agreed or committed to pass a decision on a freeze… I don’t think it serves a purpose.”  

Issa Amro spoke for Youth Against Settlements, had quite a different opinion on the effect Israel's settlements have on the peace process. “[They are] displacing the Palestinians from their cities and towns, killing the two state solution completely.” 

Settler attacks in the West Bank

According to a recnt report published by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Negotiations Affairs Department, since the start of peace talks in July there have been 497 incidents of settler attacks against Palestinians. 

Two recent attacks occurred on Thursday 6 March.  Just outside Murayer, a village in the West Bank, two Palestinian men were attacked by settlers. The men were assaulted by settlers who threw stones and them and beat them with branches.  Both men needed to be hospitalized. 

Then, a man from the settlement of Elli, also in the West Bank, was caught on camera in the Palestinian village of Talfit attempting to cut down Palestinian olive trees with a chain saw. The villagers rely on the trees for their primary source of economic income. 

International reaction

The subject of settlements is has been generally avoided by Secretary Kerry, however several international powers have expressed concern with these recent developments.  

“The EU and the international community have repeatedly warned that any unilateral action, prejudging the final status of Jerusalem threatens the current peace negotiations and, as a consequence, the two-state solution. Any such developments must be avoided at all costs,” said EU High Representative Catherine Ashton in an announcement

The US State Department has also released a statement expressing disapproval of the current situation: “Our position on Jerusalem is clear, we oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.”

The current set of negotiations are only meant to be nine months long, and President Obama and John Kerry are pushing the parties to reach and agreement before talks conclude in April. 

Issa Amro noted that Israel is potentially damaging international relationships saying, “Israel even not respecting their international supporters and friends.”

Ultimately, he remains optimistic, saying that for his organization and others, the continued expansion of settlements, is “motivation to the Palestinian popular resistance to go on with their resistance project against the settlements and the Israeli occupation.”

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