Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Israel’s Doomsday settlement

Israel’s decision to build further settlements in East Jerusalem has led to an international outcry, writes Nicola Nasser in Bir Zeit on the occupied West Bank

Al-Ahram Weekly

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu definitely crossed an international red line, leading to a swift and firm rejection from Israel’s closest allies, when he announced plans to build new settlements on a corridor of occupied Palestinian land in East Jerusalem recently that will render any prospective Palestinian contiguous state territorially impossible. Daniel Seidemann, the Israeli founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli NGO, has condemned the move as “the doomsday settlement” and “not a routine” one.

Netanyahu risks a diplomatic confrontation as a result, though this will not develop into the diplomatic isolation of Israel because Israel’s allies have decided to pressure him to backtrack by “incentives and disincentives” instead of “sanctions,” in the words of British foreign secretary William Hague.

The summoning of Israeli ambassadors to protest Netanyahu’s plans by Australia, Brazil, France, the UK, Sweden, Denmark and Spain was nonetheless an unusual international outcry because “if implemented” Netanyahu’s “plans would alter the situation, with Jerusalem as a shared capital increasingly difficult to achieve,” according to Hague, thus “seriously undermining the two-state solution” of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, according to French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot. Without this solution “there will never be security in Israel,” according to Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr.

The international outcry is not against the Israeli policy of building settlements on occupied Palestinian land per se, but against this one particular settlement on land labelled E-1 (East One). This was Netanyahu’s answer to the overwhelming recognition of Palestine as a non-member state of the UN by the organisation’s General Assembly recently.

The site of some 12 square kilometres of this settlement on the easternmost edge of East Jerusalem will close the only territorial link between the north and south of the West Bank and sever it from East Jerusalem, the prospective capital of an independent state of Palestine, thus undermining any viable and contiguous Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. If built, the settlement would turn the recognition of Palestine as a non-member state of the UN on 29 November into merely a paper achievement.

The US and EU have opposed the E-1 plan since it was first mooted in 2005, being alert to its potential undermining of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Now, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have all warned against the E-1 plan.

The White House and US State Department have described the plan as “unilateral”, “counterproductive”, and a “setback” for peace efforts. It is also “especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution”, “complicates efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations” and “risks prejudging the outcome” of such negotiations, they say, and it is “contrary to US policy”.

EU Foreign Policy Representative Catherine Ashton said on 2 December that she was “extremely concerned” and described the plan as “an obstacle to peace” before condemning “all settlement construction” as “illegal under international law,” a judgement shared by Hague, who added that the plan “would undermine Israel’s international reputation and create doubts about its stated commitment to achieving peace.”

In a joint statement Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and French President François Hollande said they were “deeply worried” by the plan. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said his country was “deeply concerned”. Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the plan was “extremely worrying”.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said his country “has always firmly opposed Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem and the West Bank”. Russia views the plan “with the utmost concern” because it “would have a very negative effect”, a spokesman said. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warned the plan “would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution”.

All five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the United Nations as a whole have called on Israel to “rescind”, “reconsider”, and “reverse” its plan to build the settlements. It should “exercise restraint” and “eliminate obstacles to the peace talks with Palestine”, the UN said.

However, when it comes to translating words into action all of these countries and organisations are helpless, their statements being simply “an audio phenomenon” according to Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. As such, they are simply the hollow outcry of a world community that has not been able to take more concrete action.

As a result, it has come as no surprise that Netanyahu feels confident in pursuing his plans. At the same time, however, the international community’s inaction cannot but lead to a Palestinian reaction. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on 4 December chaired a leadership meeting in Ramallah that was attended by representatives of the rival Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements, as well as by the Palestinian Authority. Those present at the meeting decided to ask the UN Security Council to adopt a binding resolution obliging Israel to stop all settlement activities in occupied Palestine, concluding that Israel “is forcing us to go to the International Criminal Court” to vindicate Palestinian rights.

Netanyahu’s defiance and the Palestinian leadership’s decision will both put the credibility of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to an historic test. Either they will need to act on their own words, or their inaction will leave the Palestinians with the only option of defending their existence by all means available to them.

For the Palestinians, to be or not to be has become an existential question that the international community cannot be trusted to answer.

The writer is an Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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