Israel confirmed that it was planning to appropriate a large tract of fertile land in the occupied West Bank close to Jordan, a move likely to exacerbate tensions with western allies and the already drawing international condemnation.
A unit of Israel’s Defence Ministry known as GOGAT, said the political decision to seize the territory had been taken and “the lands are in the final stages of being declared state lands”.
Appropriation of Land
The appropriation, covers 154 hectares (380 acres) in the Jordan Valley close to Jericho, an area where Israel already has many settlement farms built on land Palestinians seek for a state. It is the largest land seizure since August 2014.
While UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the move, Palestinian officials said they would push for a resolution at the United Nations against Israel’s settlement policies.
“Settlement activities are a violation of international law and run counter to the public pronouncements of the government of Israel supporting a two-state solution to the conflict,” Ban said in a statement.
The land, in an area fully under Israeli civilian and military control and already used by Jewish settlers to farm dates, is situated near the northern tip of the Dead Sea.
The farmland is said to be located in the Jordan Valley south of Jericho and, according to settlement watchdog Peace Now, would mark the biggest declaration since a seizure of 400 hectares in 2014.
Peace Now said the land had been taken over by Israeli settlers years ago for farming. Israeli media reported that the land amounted to 150 hectares and said it was north of the Israeli settlement of Almog.
Previous seizures have been harshly criticised by Palestinians, rights groups and much of the international community. Such moves erode the territory Palestinians see as part of their future state, further complicating peace efforts.
The Palestinian Reaction
“Israel is stealing land specially in the Jordan Valley under the pretext it wants to annex it,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters. “This should be a reason for a real and effective intervention by the international community to end such a flagrant and grave aggression which kills all chances of peace.”
The United States, whose ambassador angered Israel this week with criticism of its West Bank policy, said it was strongly opposed to any moves that accelerate settlement expansion.
In a development likely to further upset Europe, Israeli forces demolished six structures in the West Bank funded by the EU’s humanitarian arm. The structures were dwellings and latrines for Bedouins living in an area known as E1 – a particularly sensitive zone between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
Israel has not built settlements in E1, with construction considered a “red line” by the United States and the EU. It could potentially split the West Bank, cutting Palestinians off from East Jerusalem, which they seek for their capital.
“This is the third time they demolished my house and every time I rebuilt it, this time also I will rebuild it and I am not leaving here. If we leave they will turn the place into a closed military zone,” said Saleem Jahaleen, whose home was razed.
The West Bank’s Trajectory
In the West Bank, Israel continued its construction of the wall/fence with attached guard towers, mostly on Palestinian land, routing it to afford protection to illegal settlements while cutting off Palestinian villagers from their lands. Palestinian farmers were required to obtain special permits to access their lands between the wall and the Green Line demarcating the West Bank’s border with Israel. Throughout the West Bank, Israeli forces maintained other restrictions on the free movement of Palestinians by using military checkpoints and restricting access to certain areas by preventing Palestinians using bypass roads constructed for the use of Israeli settlers. These restrictions hindered Palestinians’ access to hospitals, schools and workplaces. Furthermore, Israel forcibly transferred Palestinians out of occupied East Jerusalem to other areas in the West Bank.
An Apartheid State Policy
Israel operates a two-tiered system in the West Bank that provides preferential treatment to Jewish Israeli settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians. Israeli courts apply Israeli civil law to settlers, affording them legal protections, rights and benefits not enjoyed by their Palestinian neighbours who are subject to Israeli military law, even though under international humanitarian law, military law governs the occupied territories regardless of citizenship.
Israel’s privileged treatment of settlers extends to virtually every aspect of life in the West Bank. On the one hand, Israel provides settlers, and in many cases settlement businesses, with land, water infrastructure, resources, and financial incentives to encourage the growth of settlements. On the other hand, Israel confiscates Palestinian land, forcibly displaces Palestinians, restricts their freedom of movement, precludes them from building in all but one per cent of the area of the West Bank under Israeli administrative control, and strictly limits their access to water and electricity.
The One State Strategy
The idea of a Jewish one-state solution has been detailed by a member of the current Netanyahu government. Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party (HaBayit HaYehudi) gave specific information in an article published in the Times of Israel of how he would impose such a state starting with annexing Area C. That his party didn’t do so well in the last elections has largely weakened his party, but the idea of a one-state Jewish Israel continues to be reiterated by many Israelis, including many in the presiding Likud Party, the government and the presidency. A host of other right-wing Israelis have different formulas they believe will ensure the permanent Jewishness of the future state without the need for continued military occupation.
They are all supporters of some type of annexation (whether a gradual or one-time act) of the West Bank to Israel but refuse to annex the heavily populated Gaza Strip and, of course, they are totally against the return of any Palestinian refugee while supporting the right of Jews to return to this Jewish state.
There are many different streams of Jewish “one-staters”. Rivlin’s idea is that while the state would be a Jewish state, it could have two distinct parliaments, thus making it more of a confederation but under Israeli Jewish auspices. Tel Aviv journalist and editor Naom Sheizaf explained how this concept is seen in Israel. Writing for +972 Magazine, Sheizaf said, “The Israeli right thinks of it as a Jewish state with a large Arab minority, while many Palestinians envision a Palestinian state with a large Jewish minority, and intellectuals discuss models that have little support on the ground.”
The Bennett Doctrine
The education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday said Israel should annex the West Bank, beginning with the Etzion bloc and Binyamin regions. “We need to mark this as a strategic objective and stop the misunderstood message sent from Israel abroad,” added Bennett, who heads the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party.
The caucus, which urges continued Israeli control over the entire West Bank, convened to celebrate the publication of a new wine guide. Bennett reiterated his longstanding call for West Bank annexation in an interview with JTA.
“The approach that I’m promoting is reasonable, sane. In the Middle East, we don’t have the luxury to indulge in fantasy. If it were up to me, I would not wait. I would start with the Etzion bloc [in the West Bank near Jerusalem], and apply Israeli law and sovereignty on the Etzion bloc first,” the minister and leader of the Jewish Home party said.
The Illegal Role of the IDF
For nearly 50 years the Israeli army has been treating settler violence against Palestinians as a decree of fate, some sort of force majeure that trumps it in the territories otherwise under its control and responsibility. In other words, the army has dealt with the phenomenon without actually dealing with it. International law, however, is quite clear that the occupying power, the Israeli army in this case, has an obligation to preserve the rule of law and public order in those territories. In countless rulings, the Israeli High Court has even emphasized that it is a basic and fundamental obligation — but the IDF paid no heed. However, the army once again dragged its feet.
Only in 2009, three years after the ruling on the olive harvest, did the army’s legal advisor for the territories send — for the first time — a fact sheet to commanders clarifying soldiers’ obligation to intervene in crimes committed by Israelis. In 2013, four years after that, the state comptroller found that army’s Central Command had not made any efforts to implement the High Court ruling or the legal advisor’s memo to commanders: soldiers were not trained to fulfil their role in enforcing the law; the very concept of law enforcement wasn’t mentioned in general orders; senior officers testified about the army’s failure to fulfil its obligatory role.
Back in 1983, the Israeli-government sanctioned Karp Commission already described the justice system, army and police’s failure to enforce the rule of law in the occupied territories as a vicious cycle. In order to break out of that unjust cycle the army must establish clear orders that clearly detail soldiers’ obligations when encountering crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians. It must also codify standing idly by as a crime in the military’s criminal code.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate the laws of occupation. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens into the territory it occupies and from transferring or displacing the population of an occupied territory within or outside the territory.
The Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, establishes the court’s jurisdiction over war crimes including the crimes of transfer of parts of the civilian population of an occupying power into an occupied territory, and the forcible transfer of the population of an occupied territory. The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes committed in or from the territory of the State of Palestine, now an ICC member, beginning in June 13, 2014, the date designated by Palestine in a declaration accompanying its accession.
For years, Palestinians and the international community have been calling for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine as the most acceptable compromise for the conflict. With the Israelis’ continued rejection of the two-state solution, more and more Palestinians are calling for one secular state in which all citizens have equal rights. But while the Palestinians’ call for a secular state seems to be rejected by Israelis, more and more right-wing Israelis are adopting their own version of the one Jewish state.