The Netanyahu government has advanced plans for 4,948 new settlement units in the West Bank, signalling an end to the pretense that Israel halted its annexation plans in exchange for normalization with Arab countries.
Analysts suggest the slate of approvals are part of a larger effort to take advantage of US support while Donald Trump is still in power.
The group noted that all of the new units except for two were approved in areas that Israel would have to evacuate in the case of a two-state solution that adheres to the borders drawn in the Geneva Initiative.
Among the plans that were advanced were hundreds of illegal settler outposts that were retroactively recognized and approved.
Israeli outposts, which unlike settlements are built without initial government approval, are considered illegal under Israeli law itself, but are frequently “retroactively legalized” by the government in proceedings such as this one.
The Israeli government advanced plans for 4,948 new settlement units in the occupied Palestinian territory during planning meetings on October 14th and 15th, settlement watchdog Peace Now reported.
According to the group, the advancement of the plans by the Israeli Civil administration, make 2020 the “highest year on record in terms of units in settlement plans promoted since Peace Now began recording in 2012.”
Peace Now said that of the 4,948 units, 2,260 were approved for deposit (the first major stage of development) and 2,688 were approved for validation (the second and often final major stage of development).
Peace Now also noted that the plans included 560 units in the Har Gilo settlement, which was built on the lands of al-Walaja village and lies in the hills between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
The new “neighborhood” in Har Gilo, Peace Now notes, would actually be larger than Har Gilo itself, and would effectively further isolate al-Walaja from the surrounding village of Battir, and Battir from Bethlehem city.
Not only are the lands in question central to Palestinian life in the Bethlehem area, with many residents enjoying hikes and nature trails between Bethlehem, Battir, and al-Walaja for decades.
The land also “constitutes some of the only uninhabited fertile land reserves for Bethlehem, which currently is cut off by the West Bank barrier to its immediate north and west,” Peace Now says.
Residents of the al-Walaja village told Mondoweiss that Israeli forces have continued their policy of home demolitions in the village during the Corona-virus pandemic.
The move is the first major demonstration of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s bowing to the ‘Greater Israel’ settlement agenda that would in reality bring about a permanent undemocratic one-state reality.
By doing so, Israel is signaling to the world its bi-partisan support for the end to the concept of a two-state solution and a Palestinian state – the paradigm that until now has largely shielded Israel from formal pressure over its 53-year occupation.
The settlement enterprise is not in Israel’s national or security interest, and is a strategic mistake at the national and international level.
Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law, and have been widely condemned by the international community as one of the major barriers to achieving peace in the region and justice for Palestinians.
It is estimated that there are over 600,000 Israeli citizens living in these illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The construction of these Jewish-only settlements are directly linked to the dispossession of Palestinians from their land, the continued demolition of Palestinian homes, and the growing inability for Palestinians to access their lands in and around the settlements.
The new slate of approvals is the first time new settlement homes have been advanced since Israel signed normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain.
When the UAE announced its deal with Israel, it emphasized the fact that as part of the agreement, Israel would be putting a stop to annexation plans that were being touted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for months, and were supposed to be announced officially on July 1st.
The claim that the UAE was responsible for halting annexation drew widespread criticism from Palestinians and their supporters, who said that not only was de facto annexation already a reality in the oPt, but that Israel would continue its policies of displacement of Palestinians into the future.
While the the construction of new settlements does not necessarily mean that Israel will be immediately applying sovereignty over the settlements and other swaths of the West Bank, settlement expansion is largely viewed as a precursor to annexation.
Land and water in the West Bank are also polluted by untreated sewage from Israeli settlements: 19 million cubic meters per year according to the Knesset Research Institute (cited on Al Jazeera).
Meanwhile chemical pollution from Israeli settlement industries also has serious impacts on the environment and health of Palestinian communities.
Excluding annexed east Jerusalem, more than 450,000 Israelis live in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, alongside some 2.7 million Palestinians.
Mondoweiss / ABC Flash Point Annexation News 2020.