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CJ Werleman

Israel's exploding settlement expansion

Construction of settlements, which are illegal under international law, has accelerated [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 January, 2019

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Comment: Israel is taking advantage of the Trump administration's callous indifference to the Palestinian people, writes CJ Werleman
The year 2018, which marked the 51st year of Israel's illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, will be recorded by both historians and observers as an annus horribilis.

As much grief was inflicted on the Palestinian people in this year as in any of those marked by the merciless cruelty of any number of cynically named Israeli military operations, including Operation Protective Edge, which resulted in the deaths of 2,200 Palestinians in 2014, and Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,300 Palestinians in 2008/09.

While the misery imparted on the more than six million Palestinians in Israel and the occupied and besieged territories in 2018 was enthusiastically meted out by the state of Israel, like it has seemingly enjoyed doing so every year since 1967, these new levels of despair for the Palestinian people were realised largely because of the egregious policies of the current US administration.

In May, US President Trump sanctified Israeli criminality by relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and in doing so recognising the Holy City as the capital of Israel, which is an objective violation of international law.

On the very day the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem, with a level of colonial self-indulgence not seen the last century, Israeli snipers were busy shooting at thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, leaving 58 dead, including women, children, medics and journalists.
On the very day the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem, with a level of colonial self-indulgence not seen the last century, Israeli snipers were busy shooting at thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza
In August, things would become even more dire for the day-to-day existence of Gaza's two million inhabitants, when Trump announced his intention to cut all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), with the goal of eliminating the refugee status of millions of Palestinians, a cynical move that cruelly punishes 1.4 million Palestinian refugees who are dependent on UNRWA humanitarian aid.

While the relocation of the US embassy, Israel's violence in Gaza, and Trump's cut to humanitarian assistance programmes have received their fair share of global media attention, Israel's effort to formally annex the West Bank in defiance of international law, and with the blessing of the current US administration, has received little to none.

A newly released report published by the anti-settlement group Peace Now shows how there's been a spike in building and planning new Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank during the past 12 months, and once again the Palestinians can rightfully blame Trump for their further misery here.

The report compiled by Peace Now shows that while there was a fall in settlement construction in the first year of Trump's presidency, 2017, as a result of former US President Obama's effort to curtail Israeli settlement expansion throughout his term, there was a 20 percent increase in 2018.

In fact, there were 3,154 settlement construction tenders issued by the Israeli government in 2017, a number that ballooned to 3,800 last year, representing the highest number ever recorded since Peace Now began compiling data in 2002.

"The feeling of the Israeli government is everything is allowed, that the time to do things is now because the US administration is the most pro-settlement you can ever have," said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now in an interview with the Associated Press.

The Israeli government is clearly taking advantage of the fact that the current occupant of the White House has departed from long-standing US policy in refusing to voice opposition to Israel's settlement enterprise, and thus is utilising Trump's callous indifference to the Palestinian people as an opportunity to invest in settlement infrastructure and new roads in the West Bank while, at the same time, carrying out demolitions of Palestinian-owned homes and making changes to existing laws.

"Without any official declarations, the Israeli government is preventing the viability and contiguity of a future Palestinian state, while treating lands in Area C as its own," observe the authors of the report.

"The implications of the abovementioned developments are far-reaching for Israel, the Palestinians and the region as a whole."

When Trump appointed David Friedman, a financial supporter of the settlement enterprise, as his ambassador to Israel in the very first weeks of his presidency, he signaled to Netanyahu that what was once an Israeli policy of "creeping annexation" could be elevated to a shameless and unembarrassed mission to formalize its theft of Palestinian land, and in doing so put an end to the possibility of an independent Palestinian state.

"With the speed of developments all across the West Bank and East Jerusalem and as red lines are being crossed we are approaching the final stretch before a two state solution will be almost impossible, and the anticipated situation will be the long years of bloody conflict of Israeli rule over the Palestinians without hope for change," observes Peace Now.

While annexation of the West Bank has been a public goal of the current Israeli government, with Netanyahu appointees openly declaring the Palestinian territory a central component of "Greater Israel", what we are witnessing today is the formality and realisation of the Zionist dream, all of which is taking place with the blessing of a country that long declared itself an "honest broker" in the quest for peace: the United States of America.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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