January 29, 2017

Israeli settlement policies could endanger regional and global peace

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has approved a plan to build 2,500 settlement homes in the occu­pied West Bank, barely 48 hours after it had accepted building permits for more than 500 settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

The burst of planned building activity came in the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, which has not condemned Israel’s “flagrant violation” of international law, in the words of December’s UN Security Council resolution on the subject. Netan­yahu has exultantly tweeted: “We build and continue to build.”

It was left to a relatively minor player in the grand geopolitical scheme of things, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, to state the obvious: “The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump’s arrival as president. We no longer have our hands tied as in the time of Barack Obama. Now we can finally build.”

It is hardly surprising that Turgeman was unambiguous. He has previously been horribly candid about the attempt to dehumanise the Palestinians, accusing them of behaving like “animals” after a deadly attack on East Jerusalem in October.

But the Israeli government’s actions were just as unambiguous as Turgeman’s appalling words. There can be no alternative interpreta­tion of settlement expansion other than as a cynical attempt to use Trump’s rise as licence to do away with the legitimate rights of the Palestinians to nationhood.

The United Nations, European Union and Germany have warned that accelerated construction in occupied Palestinian territory undermines the prospects for a two-state solution. The Jordanian government has said it deals a “tough blow” to efforts to revive the peace process. The American Jewish Committee, a respected advo­cacy organisation, raised fears that Israel’s “gamble (would) further inflame an already difficult situation on the ground and internation­ally”.

Two liberal Jewish organisations in the United States — Americans for Peace Now and J Street — have condemned the settlements surge. The former colourfully suggested that Trump must be careful that the Israeli right wing does not make a freer (Hebrew for “sucker”) out of him.

The outrage at Israeli defiance is exacerbated by fears that Trump as president will honour his regrettable and ill-conceived campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Trump is not the first victorious US presidential candidate to have made such a pledge but is the only one who has demonstrated seriousness about it. Not only has he repeated it all too often, Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel is considered more right wing than many in the Israeli right about settlements and the Palestinian issue.

That said, the Trump White House has given few details about the embassy’s relocation. Spokesman Sean Spicer vaguely insisted “there’s no decision”, which gives rise to the hope that reason will prevail and Trump will reconsider.

There is hope, also, that moderate Arab leaders can convince Trump to avoid giving any more encouragement to the Netanyahu government’s dangerous propensities regarding the Palestinian issue, including Jerusalem. The implications for regional peace and security are too big to ignore.

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