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Israel Approves Largest West Bank Settlement Expansion in Over Three Decades

by | Jul 3, 2024

Israel Approves Largest West Bank Settlement Expansion in Over Three Decades

by | Jul 3, 2024

Palestinians' right of return

As violence and ethnic cleansing surges throughout the occupied West Bank, the Israeli NGO Peace Now says Tel Aviv has approved the largest illegal settlement expansion in over three decades. Israel’s Supreme Planning Council will also review plans to advance the construction of more than 6,000 housing units across dozens of West Bank Jewish-only colonies.

This comes as far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who holds a key position in the Defense Ministry acting as the West Bank’s de facto governor, is moving forward with plans to fully annex the occupied territory.

According to a copy of the order acquired by the Associated Press, Israeli authorities have green-lit the seizure of about five square miles of land in the Jordan Valley. This latest land grab follows the seizure of roughly four square miles of the West Bank in February and March this year. Peace Now explains this latest seizure is the “largest single appropriation approved since the 1993 Oslo accords,” adding that 2024 has been “by far the peak year” for organized Israeli theft of Palestinian land intended for a two-state solution.

This Jordan Valley settlement expansion connects illegal colonies along a critical corridor bordering Jordan, monitors say this reflects an effort to preclude the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state. Stephanie Dujarric, a United Nations spokesperson, deemed the latest move as a “step in the wrong direction, emphasizing “the direction we want to be heading is to find a negotiated two-state solution.”

Yoni Mizrachi, Peace Now’s head of settlement tracking, says the buffer zone between Palestinian lands and Jordan is meant to “choke off” the potential for a Palestinian state and force Palestinians into “isolated islands surrounded by Israeli land.” He continued, “they definitely see this area as a strategic area, as the first and one of the easiest ways to begin annexation.”

By claiming these large swaths of territory as state lands, Israelis have the opportunity to seek leases there while Palestinian private ownership is banned. Israel maintains in excess of 100 exclusivist colonies throughout the West Bank, which have been built into small towns or suburbs.

Additionally, Haaretz reports the agenda published Wednesday includes plans to discuss in the coming days the construction of 6,016 housing units in many West Bank settlements. Smotrich boasted last week that the security cabinet rubber-stamped measures such the construction of thousands of settler homes and the legalization of five illegal outposts, “to fight against the recognition of a Palestinian state.”

Smotrich is explicitly punishing the Palestinian people in retaliation for the decision made by several European governments including Ireland, Norway, Spain, and Slovenia, to recognize a Palestinian state. He also said the measures were motivated by the announcement that the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants to put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on trial for war crimes committed in the Gaza Strip.

As CNN reported last month, Smotrich “said in May that Israel should approve 10,000 settlements in the West Bank, establish a new settlement for every country that recognizes a state of Palestine, and cancel travel permits for Palestinian Authority officials.”

Since Israel’s war on Gaza began, the UN has documented over 1,000 violent settler attacks in the West Bank against Palestinians, including killings and property destruction. More than 550 Palestinians have been murdered by the Israeli army and settlers in the West Bank during that time as well. UNICEF declared last year to be the deadliest on record for Palestinian children in the occupied territory, since last October almost 140 have been slaughtered.

Rights groups say the violence and proliferation of illegal outposts during the war on Gaza has led to the displacement of numerous Palestinian villages and communities. But in this same period, thousands of people have been displaced in the West Bank by the Israeli state itself.

As the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has detailed, “Israeli authorities demolished, confiscated or forced the demolition of 1,061 Palestinian structures across the West Bank, of which 38 per cent (398 structures) were inhabited homes. As a result, 2,368 people, including 1,047 children, were displaced. Over half of those displaced (1,208) were during military operations, particularly in Jenin and Tulkarm cities and the surrounding refugee camps; 42 per cent (1,001 people) were due to the lack of permit; and 7 per cent (159) were displaced by punitive demolitions.”

Smotrich, himself an illegal settler, recently unveiled his plans for the West Bank’s full annexation at a speech to the far-right Religious Zionism party he leads, a recording of which was obtained by Peace Now. The minister proclaimed “we came to settle the land, to build it, and to prevent its division and the establishment of a Palestinian state, God forbid.” Smotrich vowed to “change the map dramatically” and declare more Palestinian territory as Israeli state lands than ever before. He further pledged to expand farming outposts, which illegal settlers exploit to ethnically cleanse rural areas.

Smotrich has transferred control over large parts of the West Bank’s Civil Administration, heretofore overseen by the Israeli military, to ideologically sympathetic Settlements Administration bureaucrats. As the AP notes, Wednesday’s declaration was signed under Hilel Roth’s authority. Peace Now says Roth was appointed as a deputy by Smotrich earlier this year to ramp up settlement expansion and state land declarations. Roth is a former resident of Yitzhar, an infamously violent and radical settlement. During Smotrich’s speech, he assured his allies Netanyahu is “with us full-on.”

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip have been militarily conquered by Tel Aviv since 1967. The millions of Palestinian Christians and Muslims living in the West Bank suffer daily under brutal Israeli apartheid rule.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently condemned Netanyahu as an existential threat to the state of Israel, among other things, accusing him of eschewing diplomatic off ramps, destroying Israel’s economy and emboldening settler “thugs carrying guns” in an attempt to start a war in the West Bank.

Peace Now echoed these sentiments saying “It seems that from every direction, from cabinet resolutions to the work of the Planning Council, destruction of a diplomatic solution is the main endeavor of the current government. Since the start of the war, the Israeli government has been building, developing and investing every effort in construction across the West Bank, compared with the opposite attitude of investing inside the wounded and bleeding Israel since October 7.”

Israeli military operations in the West Bank have severely intensified with the UN documenting 28 airstrikes on the occupied territory slaughtering almost 80 Palestinians including 14 children. The UN’s latest assessment found “200 houses sustained damage during a recent operation by Israeli forces in Nur Sham Refugee Camp in Tulkarm,” a Palestinian woman and child were also killed.

Connor Freeman

Connor Freeman

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on Conflicts of Interest. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as Antiwar.com and Counterpunch, as well as the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96

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