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Settlement Expansion and the Prospects for Peace

By Sam Gilbert - June 21, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [settlements] [Settlement Expansion] [John Kerry] [Peace Process] [Two State Solution]

Since the onset of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visits to revive the staled peace talks between Israel and Palestine there has been a sharp increase in settlement expansion plans in the West Bank, with construction rising 335% in the first quarter of 2013.  In the month of June alone, Israel announced its plans to build 1000+ new homes in Itamar and Bruchin, along with the retroactive legalization of the Eli outpost.  

The Palestinian Authority, the U.S. and the international community have condemned the renewed activity, reiterating the long held position that settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) undermines any possibility of the still mutually espoused Two State Solution.  

Meanwhile Israel continues to claim Palestinian intransigence (i.e. the PA’s insistence on a complete settlement freeze before entering into any sort of negotiations) as evidence that Israel does not have an honest “Partner in Peace.”  This long held Israeli position has become increasingly untenable in light of recent candid statements made by high-ranking Israeli officials this week about Israel’s intension to hold and settle Palestine in perpetuity.  As economy Minister Naftali Bennett said, “the attempt to establish a Palestinian state in our land has ended,” according to Haaretz.  

These “extremist” comments, met with shock and outrage from the international community, reflect the reality of what has been taking place in the oPt for decades.  The real shock may not be in the comments themselves but how they expose the rhetorical sleight of hand, where Israel espouses peace while simultaneously continuing the processes of Judaization and annexation of Palestinian land.  Regardless of the rhetoric coming from the Knesset, the developments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since Kerry’s visit are completely consistent with an Israeli policy in the West Bank that has undermined the viability of two states for two peoples.  

Construction in 2013

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics data, new construction in the West Bank rose steeply during the first quarter of 2013, nearly 335% compared to the previous quarter.  According to Israeli settlement watch organization Peace Now, this marks a seven year high in the region.

According to Peace Now, the construction of 865 units began between January and March.   In May Israel cleared construction for 1000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem: 800 units in Gilo and 300 in Ramot, as noted at the time by the Palestine Monitor.  And in June plans were advanced for 1000+ news units in the settlements of Itamar in Bruchin, along with the retroactive legalization of illegal outpost known as Eli.  The 675 new units in Itamar located east of Nablus will increased the settlement fivefold, and the expansion of the Bruchin by 550 will increase it nearly ten times its current size, according to Peace Now

The Israeli regional council in the northern West Bank welcomed the news, saying, "Samaria has recorded an impressive 10% annual growth rate and provides thousands of young couples, both secular and religious, high levels of culture and education and vicinity to central Israel.,"  according to Ynet News.  Both official and unofficial governmental subsidies have facilitated migration East of the Green line as Israeli’s look for better economic opportunities, according to a report by Maan Development Center.  

PA Response

News of the recent settlement upsurge has received widespread condemnation from the Palestine Authority (P.A.) and the International community alike.  Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for president Abbas said in response to expansion of Itamir: "We consider these new decisions over Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be an abortion of the US administration's efforts," according to Maan News

Nabil Shaath, an Abbas adviser, also spoke about the recent settlement activity:

“This Israeli government is destroying the two-state solution and the prospects of a peace deal in deeds and words,” he said. “They [the Israelis] say they have the right to build anywhere they want in the West Bank, and then they say 'let’s go to negotiations’ while they continue building settlements on our lands, and then they blame us if we say that there can be no negotiations with the continuation of the settlement activities” the Times of Israel reported.

This Israeli government is destroying the two-state solution and the prospects of a peace deal in deeds and words.

U.S. State Deparment spokesman Jen Psaki added we “Certainly we find this unhelpful.” 

The expansion of these particular settlements in 2013 is troublesome considering their “sensitive” locations within the West Bank.  Ramot and Gilo are situated in East Jerusalem; construction here is designed to sever the future Palestinian capital from the rest of the West Bank.  Furthermore, construction in the isolated settlements of Bruchin and Itamar, located deep within Palestinian territory, diminishes the possibility of a two state solution based on the mutually agreed upon Land Swaps. The overall settlement activity in 2013 reflects a specific policy, pointed out by Palestinian academic Rashid Khalidi in 2012, in which, “Israeli planners have systematically acted in ways to make a state impossible, by building settlements in regions that make it impossible to create a contiguous, viable Palestinian state (i).”

Eretz Israel

This long established physical reality being imposed in the West Bank has recently received ideological public support from high Ranking Knesset members.  Bethlehem based Maan News reported that in an interview with Israel Channel 1, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said,  "The Jewish people are not settlers in the West Bank but Israel will make the Palestinians settlers and Jordan will be the one taking control over Palestinians and that's it.”  In response to the Kerry peace talks Danon said “there would not be a Palestinian state, whether Kerry visited or not.” 

In a Times of Israel interview, Danon spoke about the sentiment within the coalition government: “there was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution… and nobody will bring it to a vote, it’s not smart to do it — but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.”  

This sentiment was reiterated on Monday by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.  In a conference held by the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization for municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Bennet said, “the attempt to establish a Palestinian state in our land has ended,” according to Haaretz.   "The most important thing in the Land of Israel is to build, build, build," he said. "It's important that there will be an Israeli presence everywhere. Our principal problem is still Israel's leaders unwillingness to say in a simple manner that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel. “


While these statement led to sharp condemnation from various members of the Israeli government, they clearly reflect the processes at work in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

While these statement led to sharp condemnation from various members of the Israeli government, they clearly reflect the processes at work in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Netanyahu distanced himself from the comments but even his “milder” rhetoric shows his government’s position on the peace process and the Two-State Solution. 

Last week, Netanyahu made a statement in which he claimed “construction in major settlement blocks does not substantially affect Israel’s ability to come to an agreement,” according to HaaretzThe Prime Minister has consistently reiterated the Jewish Right to all of Jerusalem. At a recent Likud-Beytenu conference, he said "We will continue to live and build in Jerusalem, which will always remain united under Israeli sovereignty," as published by the Israeli daily, Isreal Hayom.

Even more telling was his statement that if a Palestinian state is established “it would have to be demilitarized and with arrangements that rely fully on the Israel Defense Forces for security.” A state that doesn’t control its borders or security and whose army is the occupying power is not an autonomous State, but the “state” of Palestine today.  While the rhetoric from Danon and Bennet may seem extreme, it honestly reflects what is taking place on the ground in the oPt.

Broken Record

While these new settlements undermine the physical validity of the two-state solution, and the intensions of the Israeli state become more publicly apparent, the real question is why both the P.A. and International community continue to pay credence to the possibility of a Two-State solution achieved through bilateral U.S. brokered negotiations, when nothing as of yet has indicated Israel’s intensions to allow a autonomous and viable Palestinian state. 

When the two parties have managed to sit down, the outcome has been disastrous for Palestinians. Since the landmark Oslo agreement, which was the supposed first step towards Palestinian statehood, we have seen a doubling of the Israeli settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the extension of Israeli administrative/military control over the majority of Palestinian territory, making a two state solution geographically improbable (ii).

As scholar Rashid Khalidi, one of Abu Ammar’s (Yassar Arafat) key advisors during the  Oslo negotiations, states, “It (the Oslo agreement) was never designed to achieve independent Palestinian statehood.  It was never designed to end the occupation.  It was really designed, of all people, by Menachem Begin, to make permanent Israeli control over the occupied territories.  And that is what has succeeded until now (i).” 

The only nation with the political capital to force Israel’s hand has instead supported the Israeli state at all turns, funding its occupation and protecting its ally from international scrutiny; Since 1948 the U.S. has launced 50 U.N. Security Council vetoes to protect Israel (iii).   The U.S. has refused to stop Israeli settlement construction through sanctions or relinquishing aid (3 billion annually (i)), even as it acknowledges their detriment to the peace process.  Assuming impartiality in U.S. brokered negotiations is considered disingenuous by many, and for decades no legitimate political, economic, or military pressure has been put on the Israeli state to change its colonial policies in the oPt.

Yet the Palestinian Authority and the international community continue to pay lip service to the Two-State solution achieved through negotiations, when both the physical reality on the ground and the ideological underpinning of the Israeli State indicate otherwise.  This may be due in part to political anxieties surrounding the One-State Solution, or a lack of options in pressuring Israel in other fashions.  However, as the feasibility of two states diminishes with each new round of settlement construction, and as the intentions of the Israeli state become more transparent, it is clear that a new outlook and process is desperately needed in the region. 



Work Cited:

(i) Khalidi, Rashid.  Brokers of Deceit:  How the US has undermined peace in the Middle East.

Boston, MA:  Beacon Press, 2012. Print  

(ii) Farsakh, Leila.  “The One-State Solution and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:  Palestinian Challenges and Prospects.”   The Middle East Journal Volume 65, Number 1, Winter 2011 pp. 55-71

(iii) Aruri, Naseer.  “United States policy and Palestine:  Oslo, the intifada and Erasure.” Race and Class. 52.3 (2011): page 3-20.   Print.

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