Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
ON Feb 5 Israeli Parliament has passed a controversial bill that retroactively legalises thousands of settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, drawing widespread anger by Palestine leaders and rights groups. Being pumped up by Trump’s Jerusalem move, Israeli Premier Netanyahu is readily planning to implement an extension plan based on building construction and religious fanaticism in order to change the physical and ideological boundaries of East Jerusalem via superseding Israel’s domestic law over international law- a move that completely darkens the peace scope in the Middle East is also disapproved by US President Trump.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) slammed the new law as a means to “legalise theft” of Palestinian land. Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel must use a United Nations Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlement activity as a spur to effectively annex large parts of the West Bank, and vowed to push ahead with plans to introduce potentially explosive legislation to extend sovereignty to a large settlement near Jerusalem. “It’s time to decide between two alternatives: surrendering our land, or sovereignty,” Bennett said, speaking during a visit to the Western Wall, “We’ve tried surrendering our land, it didn’t work; it is time for sovereignty.”
The so-called “Regulation Bill” applies to about 4,000 settlement homes in the West Bank for which settlers could prove ignorance that they had built on privately owned land and had received encouragement from the Israeli State to do so. Using a series of measures that involve massive land grabs, rapid construction of Jewish settlements and the imposition of a repressive system on Palestinians designed to stifle their daily lives and push them out of the city, the Israeli state has managed to change the demographic makeup of occupied East Jerusalem.
Today, 86 per cent of East Jerusalem is under direct control of the Israeli authorities and Jewish settlers. Around 200,000 settlers live in settlements that have been mostly built either entirely or partially on private Palestinian property. On Oct 29, 2017 the Ministerial Committee for Legislation was supposed to approve a new bill. The bill would have mandated that numerous West Bank settlements — including those of the Etzion Bloc (Efrat and others), Givat Zeev and Maale Adumim —– would be annexed to Jerusalem.
This is not to be confused with diplomatic annexation of the territory, and Israeli law cannot be imposed on the annexed territories. The annexation is categorized as only “municipal,” and its goal is to add the residents of these settlements, about 150,000 in all, to the pool of voters for elections in the Jerusalem municipality. This is an evil attempt to alter the changing demographic balance of Israel’s capital city. The bill — an explosive political hot potato — was initiated by Knesset’s Member Yoav Kish and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, two of Likud’s most senior ministers. And indeed, a short time afterward, American sources heuristically confirmed that such a bill would not contribute to the atmosphere that the Donald Trump Administration is trying to create in the region, and would not assist the efforts being made to renew the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. This bill would disconnect Jerusalem from the Arab neighbourhoods found outside the separation fence that was erected in the city after the eruption of the second Intifada (2000-2005).
There are some contrasting reflections on the subject which argue that there is little likelihood about the creation of the Palestinian State and while Israel is one day forced to choose between the two core components of its national identity: Jewish and democratic. Either it asserts permanent control over Palestinians without granting them full rights — a sort of state that critics sometimes compare to apartheid South Africa — or it grants Palestinians full rights, establishing a pluralistic democracy that is no longer officially Jewish. In Israel’s legal frame work there had already been a two-tiered system of laws that accorded superior civil status, rights and legal protections for Jewish-Israeli citizens and inferior status, rights and protections to Israel’s Palestinian citizens since 1948— thereby exercising a system of institutionalized racial discrimination in which East Jerusalem Palestinians are the most vulnerable group.
Teddy Kollek, the mayor of the contested city, said in 1968: “The object is to ensure that all of Jerusalem remains forever a part of Israel. If this city is to be our capital, then we have to make it an integral part of our country, and we need Jewish inhabitants to do that.” In 1980, Israel formalised its annexation of the eastern half of the city when it passed the Jerusalem Law, claiming that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”. Factually, the land dispute has increasingly focused on Israel’s occupation of the remaining territories — the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. UN Resolutions 242 and 338 stipulate that Israel must withdraw completely from these territories. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip on September 12, 2005, but continues to build many Jewish settlements in the other territories, actions deemed illegal by virtually all other states.
Since 2002, the Israeli government has been building a “security fence or an Apartheid wall’’ that winds deep into Palestinian territory unjustly retains control over important Palestinian economic areas, agricultural grounds and natural resources like water. This separation or segregation wall is a major de facto annexation of Palestinian territories. As for international law, an occupant territory cannot be ipso jure regularized. Yet Netanyahu’s sponsored state agenda to Judaize and annex East Jerusalem via domestic legislation can in no way ipso facto alter the political and geographical truth of Al-Quds.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.