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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Israel Expedites Construction of Settlements in Occupied West Bank

Israel’s Government Expedites Settlement Construction in Occupied West Bank

In a significant move, Israel’s government has passed legislation to accelerate the construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The decision grants Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich increased authority over one of the most contentious aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Previously, settlement construction required political approval at multiple stages. However, under the new system, proposals can be directly submitted to Israel’s Supreme Planning Council without prior political endorsement. The streamlined process reduces political intervention from four stages to two.

Critics argue that this decision aligns with Israel’s long-standing policy and reinforces its status as an apartheid state. Dror Etkes, an expert on settlements, expressed concern about the implications, stating that Israel will continue to be an apartheid state with a growing number of settlers.

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party, now wields greater influence over construction planning. As the minister responsible, he has faced criticism for anti-Palestinian remarks.

With the announcement, senior White House official Barbara Leaf arrived in Israel. Although the United States opposes further settlements, it has been accused of not taking tangible actions to prevent Israel, its closest Middle Eastern ally, from establishing illegal outposts.

The cabinet’s decision precedes a meeting of Israel’s planning committee for the West Bank, where plans for thousands of new homes in Israeli settlements are to be considered. Nearly 5,000 housing units are anticipated to receive approval this week, with reports claiming that Smotrich has authorized more construction this year than in previous years.

Far-right surge

Likud Party and Religious Zionism Propose Controversial Change to Accelerate Israeli Settlements

In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Religious Zionism put forth a proposal that has drawn criticism from Palestinians, the United States, and human rights organizations. The proposal aims to expedite Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, an action deemed illegal under international law. Netanyahu’s government, often regarded as the most far-right in the country’s history, has consistently prioritized the advancement of settlements.

This move threatens to exacerbate the already tense situation in the West Bank and has elicited condemnation from Palestinian officials and human rights groups. Earlier this month, Israel informed the US of its intention to allow thousands of new settlement lots, despite previous US efforts to persuade Netanyahu to delay plans for expanding the controversial E1 settlement project near Jerusalem.

Shai Goren from the NGO Ir Amin described this development as a step toward establishing Jewish-Israeli dominance in an apartheid-like regime in the West Bank. He remarked that it reveals the state’s abandonment of the notion of temporary occupation while awaiting a solution. Former US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, accused Israel of “creeping annexation” in the West Bank, breaching its commitment to dismantle illegal settlements.

Goren further noted that the recent decision, coupled with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s statements advocating for a doubling of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, demonstrates the government’s true intentions. Smotrich, holding the means as minister of finance, can support such an operation, solidifying the government’s stance.

Despite Netanyahu’s promise in March to refrain from constructing new settlements in the northern West Bank—a region witnessing increased Palestinian militancy—Sunday’s news contradicts that pledge. The current coalition government has displayed a divided approach to the contentious area. In early March, Smotrich faced international criticism for his call to “wipe out” the town of Huwara in the northern West Bank following an attack on Israeli settlers and subsequent settler violence. He later apologized, citing emotional turmoil as the reason for his remarks.

Palestinians call for action.

Palestinian Calls for International Action as Settlement Approval Spurs Boycott

The Palestinian foreign ministry has urgently appealed for “real international and American action” in response to a decision enabling the “quiet, noiseless” authorization of settlement projects. Hussein al-sheik, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, has announced a boycott of a Monday meeting with the Israelis by the Higher Economic Committee as a result of this development. The Palestinians are also considering additional measures to address the situation.

Jordan’s foreign ministry has similarly condemned the Israeli government’s decision to expedite settlement construction and expansion, including the issuance of bids for thousands of settlement units in the occupied Palestinian territories, according to a statement released on Twitter.

Israeli NGO Peace Now expressed concern: “This pro-settler government is irresponsibly empowering those who seek to erase Palestinian villages, representing a dangerous minority driven by messianic ideals.” The organization further warned that this decision would lead to further unlawful construction in the settlements, violating international law.

According to an AFP tally, nearly 160 Palestinians have already lost their lives this year due to Israeli fire. The ongoing violence and loss of Palestinian lives compound the urgency to address the settlement issue.

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