Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Israel announces plans for new settlement in the occupied West Bank for first time in 20 years


By Nadia Sa‘ad - April 02, 2017
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In a unanimous vote, Israel announced its approval for a new settlement in the West Bank. This will be the first time Israel officially announces the establishment of a new settlement in 20 years, strategically located in the heart of the West Bank. All settlements are illegal under international law.

The settlement is set to house the 40 families who were evacuated from the illegal Amona outpost in February. At the time, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, assured the Amona evacuees that a new settlement would be established to accommodate them despite pressure to abstain from building new settlements from the international community, most notably the United States.

Following the Amona outpost evacuation, many Israeli cabinet leaders expressed solidarity with the evacuees, assuring them there would be a resolution to the situation.

Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, responded to the evacuation in January stating: "the government must build a new settlement for Amona's residents. This would be the proper Zionist response and should do it as soon as possible."

The Amona outpost evacuation was met with violent clashes between the settlers and police officers enforcing the evacuation. The outpost was deemed illegal by the Israeli High Court, which ruled that the outpost was built on private Palestinian land.

The security cabinet’s final decision also included the construction of 2,000 new homes in current settlements. Furthermore, the state has also declared 900 dunams near the settlement Eli, located north of Ramallah, to be set aside for future housing projects.

It confirms a climate supporting settlement expansion after the many announcements earlier this year of new housing units to be built in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Israeli daily Haaretz quoted an Israeli official who attended the cabinet meeting and who explained that it was the first time the ministers had been briefed on the progress of negotiations with the White House over settlement construction since they began three weeks ago.

President Donald Trump administration asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "hold back" on settlements in February. In March, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US met with Jason Greenblatt, President Trump's special representative for international negotiations.

Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu stated that "our intent is to reach an agreed-upon policy regarding settlement construction. Policy that is acceptable to us, and not just to the Americans".

Netanyahu also reassured the evacuees of Amona stating, “To the settlers of Amona, I repeat, I gave you a commitment to build a new settlement and I will honor my commitment”.

Following the meeting, they failed to reach a consensus on the issue of illegal settlements.

Tension between Israel and the United States over the issue of settlements had been ongoing throughout the Obama Administration. These frustrations between the two governments only grew following the U.S decision not to veto the United Nations security council resolution 2334 in December, although this resolution renewed condemnation of settlement activity.

Prior to his inauguration, Donald Trump indicated there would be a shift in US policy towards Israel and also tweeted “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th”, indicating support for settlement construction.

Members of the government were hoping the new American administration would be more supportive of the settlement enterprise and, since Trumps inauguration, Israeli authorities have approved the construction of over 560 housing units within the illegally occupied East Jerusalem, as well as 5,500 across the West Bank.

This decision to relocate the Amona evacuees has been met with much criticism coming from the international community, as well as from the Palestinians.

Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s executive committee, stated regarding the illegal settlement: “Israel’s relentless efforts to expand its illegal settlement enterprise with the aim of displacing Palestine and replacing it with 'Greater Israel’ should send a strong message to governments worldwide that they need to intervene immediately and to undertake concrete measures to hold Israel accountable with serious punitive measure”.

British Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, also condemned the decision stating "these announcements are contrary to international law and seriously undermine the prospects of two states for two peoples". Johnson added: "as a strong friend of Israel, and one prepared to stand up for Israel when it faces bias and unreasonable criticism, I urge Israel not to take steps such as these, which move us away from our shared goal of peace and security and make it harder to achieve a different relationship between Israel and the Arab world."

France foreign affairs ministry also released an official statement condemning the settlement: “France strongly condemns these decisions, which threaten peace and are liable to aggravate tensions on the ground. France notes that settlements are illegal under international law, particularly UN Security Council resolution 2334. It calls on Israel to abide by its international obligations.”

Furthermore, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson said Guterres was disappointed and alarmed by Israel's decision to build a new settlement on land the Palestinians seek for a state and has condemned the move.

Currently, there are approximately 420,00 settlers living in the occupied West Bank, some living in illegal outposts –settlements that are illegal not only according to international law, but also under Israeli law; as well as 200,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem.

Top Israeli officials who claim that many of the sites where the illegal settlements are built are the Jews' ancestral lands have backed these illegal settlements. Furthermore, geographically speaking, settlements work to prevent the formation and unity of a Palestinian state.

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) or the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) prohibits the transfer of segments of the population of a state to the territory of another state which it has occupied as a result of the resort to armed force. This principle is also clearly stated in the Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Until the construction of permanent structures in the new settlement, a temporary complex will be placed at the site. The former residents of Amona have already been living in temporary structure, mostly in Ofra, for weeks.
 

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