Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Greater Jerusalem

Dividing Palestinian districts and annexing settlements in the West Bank is an accelerating policy of the Netanyahu government, writes Haitham Ahmed

Greater Jerusalem
Greater Jerusalem

Israel’s policy of settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories has long been understood as aiming to change realities on the ground and impose a fait accompli. But recently this policy has been accelerated.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took advantage of the new administration of US President Donald Trump to construct many settlement units on vast swathes of the Palestinian-controlled Zone C, a pace much faster than that during Barack Obama’s tenure. Daily encroachment by Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and its suburbs pave the way to connecting larger settlements surrounding East Jerusalem, making Palestinian areas isolated islands in a large sea of Jewish-only districts. Also, the expulsion and relocation of more Jerusalem natives, removing large Palestinian clusters outside what is known as the Jerusalem municipality zone, aims to tip the demographic balance in favour of Jews in Jerusalem.

These accelerated steps could only occur with the blessing of the US. The influential Zionist lobby exerts tremendous control over US public opinion, and therefore any US president must support Israel’s policies, or remain silent but adopt hardline positions against Arabs and commit to supporting Israel’s security. At a time of weakness in the Arab scene, Israel can adopt hardline stances against the Palestinians without any fear of being held accountable.

Haaretz newspaper reported a plan promoted by Israeli Environment Minister Zeev Elkin to separate several Palestinian neighbourhoods from Jerusalem through demographic changes in the Holy City to reduce the number of Palestinian residents. This would occur when the Israeli municipal government abandons its responsibility for services in districts outside the separation wall. The newspaper continued that the plan could be implemented within a few months. It added this is the first real attempt to limit the size of the Palestinian population in Jerusalem since 1967 by allowing the creation of separate local councils for these neighbourhoods, as part of a plan to uproot more than 100,000 Palestinians from the city. The report noted the plan is awaiting Netanyahu’s approval and necessary legislative amendments that were approved after a first reading in July.

Israel’s Channel 10 uncovered draft legislation to annex the settlements of Gosh Atsion, Maale Adumim and others in the West Bank to Jerusalem, but Netanyahu asked to postpone the legislation because it requires coordination with Washington to ensure there are no political clashes over it. “The draft should be put to the vote, as agreed upon,” stated Israeli Minister of Transportation and Intelligence Yisrael Katz, describing the draft law as “historic” and one that “guarantees a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, and strengthens Israel’s grip on the city”.

Channel 10 reported the step as part of efforts to build “Greater Jerusalem”, and that municipal governments of settlements and settlement districts outside the Green Zone would be annexed to the Jerusalem municipality. Palestinian Archbishop Sebastia Atallah Hanna received several threats in recent days to keep silent about Christian real estate passed over to the occupation. “The Orthodox Church in the Holy Land is experiencing an unprecedented state of calamity and setback amid a slump, dysfunction and weakness,” said Hanna.

He continued: “The Church is in serious danger; there are existential threats. There are many conspirators, laggard and colluders. Some are burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the tragic reality we are living, caused by accumulated violations and mistakes in recent years.” Hanna added: “We received threats in the past few days from several sources. We were told to stop talking… and not criticise the state we are in. We must watch in silence as crimes are committed against our church.”

The US has the strongest hand and most power over Israel’s fanatic right-wing government if it wants to change Tel Aviv’s course on the Palestinian issue. Observers and experts believe there are several factors that influence Washington’s decisions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most notably a strong Zionist lobby in the US Congress that is known for its intense hostility towards Palestinians and blind support for the Israeli right-wing.

Ashraf Al-Ghaleez, an expert on US and international affairs, asserts Israel has oppressed the Palestinian people since the creation of the state in 1948 with the support and assistance of the US and Europe. Al-Ghaleez notes that Israeli political parties adopt similar policies against Palestinians, Arab and Muslim nations in general. He added that the US takes decisions based on the interests of the Zionist lobby, which has money and power, and is the biggest supporter of the Zionist movement.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry says the scale of the settlement programme of the Netanyahu government is far greater than what is sporadically reported in the Israeli media. In an official statement, the ministry said that the acceleration of settlement building on the ground is the application of official government plans that are rarely publicised. Netanyahu’s statements about postponing settlement building constitute nothing more than media disinformation when dealing with the global community and world leaders.

“Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian territories are under an unprecedented and intense rate of settlements amid public pride by key members of the right-wing government,” asserted the statement. “Escalation is in the form of constructing more vast settlement roads, and new settlements marketed as part of existing settlements, such as Kirm Raim settlement located near Talmon settlement west of Ramallah, and others.”

The ministry strongly condemned these unprecedented encroachments and once again expressed strong disappointment at the response of the global community. Especially countries that claim to support a two-state solution and others that are working to relaunch talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It added that the feeble international reaction and not holding Israel accountable as an occupying power for not implementing relevant UN resolutions is now considered true collusion and a cover-up of settlement crimes.

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