Israeli settlements still a stumbling block to peace
London - The thorny issue of Israeli settlements built in the occupied territories, which is illegal under international law, was again brought to the fore after several incidents highlighted their hindrance to peace with the Palestinians.
The incidents included state-sanctioned celebrations of settlements, a UN letter warning companies that trade with settlements, a renewed US request to restrict the construction of settlements and the killing of three Israelis at a checkpoint outside the settlement of Har Adar in the West Bank.
The Israeli government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went ahead with controversial celebrations marking 50 years of Jewish settlements despite objections from the Palestinian Authority and the absence of the Israeli Supreme Court.
The celebrations, next to a military base in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion settlement block, were attended by about 5,000 people. Israeli Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, however, turned down an official invitation from the government, along with leftist and centrist politicians, drawing criticism from right-wing groups.
“The president (Naor) reached the conclusion that the event deals with an issue that is the subject of public controversy,” read a court statement explaining her position. “Therefore, without the president or justices of the supreme court taking a position on the controversy itself, the president decided that it would be appropriate for the judiciary not to participate in the event.”
The territories where Israel built settlements were occupied by the Israeli military in 1967, in a move rejected by the international community. An estimated 600,000 Israeli settlers live in the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem and tens of thousands of settlers live in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
“The settler celebrations on our occupied lands are unacceptable and make the atmosphere very tense,” Palestinian Presidential Spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told Agence France-Presse. “We ask the American administration to urgently intervene to stop these provocations.”
On the same day but prior to the celebrations, Netanyahu reportedly told settler leaders that the United States asked Israel to restrict settlement building in the West Bank and that he promised he would oblige.
The settler leaders complained to Netanyahu that during the eight-year presidency of Barack Obama, plans for more than 10,000 settlement housing units were put on hold, adding they hoped that there would be change under the Trump administration, Haaretz reported.
The Trump administration announced its intentions to renew peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians but it is likely to hit a stumbling block when it comes to the settlements.
Israeli officials, speaking to Haaretz on condition of anonymity, said the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sent a letter to 150 Israeli and international companies that have activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, warning them that they may be added to a blacklist of firms “that operate in opposition to international law and in opposition of UN resolutions.”
Several companies reportedly replied to UNHRC Commissioner Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein indicating they did not plan to renew their contracts in the territories. The UN rights body voted in March 2016 to compile a database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements. The UNHRC said it would publish the list of the companies at the end of 2017, despite strong US opposition.
A Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli policeman and two private security guards and critically wounded a fourth person outside the Har Adar settlement in the West Bank on September 26. Israeli officials said the attacker, who was killed by Israeli forces, was motivated by personal problems that were not directed at the settlements.
The Israeli military, nevertheless, said it would demolish the West Bank home of the gunman, identified as Nimr Mahmoud Ahmed Jamal, and cancel entry permits of several of his relatives. Israel often carries out such retaliatory moves against the families of Palestinian attackers, branding them as deterrents but rights groups view them as collective punishment.
Since September 2015, Israel has reported 400 attacks by Palestinian assailants, two-thirds of which were ideologically motivated, the Israeli Shin Bet security agency said.