S Qamar Afzal Rizvi
EVEN during the Holy month of Ramazan, Israel stopped the water supply to the civil Palestinian population of the West Bank and its affiliated territories. Practicing hedonism regarding the Jewish settlements on the Palestinian lands, remains the very ‘hallmark’ of Netanyahu’s government policy- a reflection on ruthless Sharon’s unilateral legacy. Israel confirmed that it was planning to appropriate a large tract of fertile land in the occupied West Bank, close to Jordan, a move likely to exacerbate tensions with Western allies and already drawing international condemnation endorsed by the current emphasis of the ‘Mideast Quartet’ urging that owing to the stalled peace process—the United States, Russia, the EU, and the UN— the Israeli policy is steadily eroding ‘viability’ of the two-state solution.
International law recognizes that as long as a territory is occupied by an ‘occupying power’ as a result of war or by any other means, it remains a ‘disputed territory’. The status of an occupation, i.e. a state in which one power occupies a territory where a local population lives.But the assumption of international law is that occupation is a temporary affair; the occupier is considered to be a trustee who maintains what he has conquered until the conflict is over. Furthermore, the occupier is not allowed to make long-term changes in the region. An ‘annexation’ is a one-sided takeover by a state of a territory by ‘use of force’ or threats of it, and is impermissible under international law – a part of the lessons of the Second World War on which so much of international law is built on. Annexation is completely ‘prohibited’ under international law.
A unit of Israel’s Defence Ministry known as GOGAT, said the political decision to seize the territory had been taken and “the lands are in the final stages of being declared state lands”. In the West Bank, Israel continued its construction of the wall/fence with attached guard towers, mostly on Palestinian land, routing it to afford protection to illegal settlements while cutting off Palestinian villagers from their lands. Palestinian farmers were required to obtain special permits to access their lands between the ‘wall’ and the ‘Green Line’ demarcating the West Bank’s border with Israel.
Throughout the West Bank, Israeli forces maintained other restrictions on the free movement of Palestinians by using military checkpoints and restricting access to certain areas by preventing Palestinians using bypass roads constructed for the use of Israeli settlers. These restrictions hindered Palestinians’ access to hospitals, schools and workplaces. Furthermore, Israel forcibly transferred Palestinians out of ‘occupied East Jerusalem’ to other areas in the West Bank.
According to Peace Now, whose data derive largely from the Israeli government Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the built-up area of settlements takes up around one percent of the West Bank, but the total amount of land that is under the jurisdiction of settlements — and therefore off limits to Palestinians — constitutes around 9.3 percent of the West Bank. In the Jordan Valley, the built-up area of the settlements is approximately 1,364 acres, but virtually the entire Jordan Valley (about 45,540 acres), with the exception of the built-up Palestinian areas, is under the jurisdiction of the settlement councils and thus off limits to Palestinian residents, and access to the Jordan Valley has for several years been almost completely cut off to Palestinians from other parts of the West Bank. An additional example relates to the settlement of MaaleAdumim, which has jurisdiction over 11,600 acres — larger than the Tel Aviv metropolitan area — even though its built-up area is just around 1,100 acres. This argument highlights the massive amount of territory alienated from Palestinian use by settlements, whose limits extend well beyond the actual built-up areas.
But even though the government never officially adopted the Levy Report, it effectively began implementing it. On the legal front, the Foreign Ministry published a document in late 2015 that adopts the spirit of the Levy Report. According to the document, Israel has a right to ‘build settlements’, based on the British Mandate charter. This claim became part of the Foreign Office Cadet Training Program and was distributed to all Israeli delegations in the world, accompanied by a directive saying this is the Israeli position and that it should be translated and published on the website of every delegation.
Beyond all these tricks, whose purpose is to prevent the ‘evacuation’ of Israeli land invaders, the government is busily working on enlarging the pool of state land, in a way that will permit the enlargement and legalization of outposts. Between 2012 and 2015, state land in the West Bank grew by 63,771 dunams; state land is not allocated to the Palestinian communities in the occupied territory, as might be expected of an occupying force that obeys its legal obligations.
When it comes to ‘dispossessing Palestinians’ of their land, the Netanyahu government and its jurists are showing ‘shenanigans’. The final result of all these processes is the creeping, de-facto annexation of ‘large swaths’ of the West Bank. Beyond the fact that this is in direct ‘contravention’ of international law, it is all happening without the government allowing public debate. The prime and defence ministers have decided to advance the construction of hundreds of housing units in the territories, including in isolated settlements that aren’t part of any plan for future annexation. For more than a year, the government had frozen construction, apparently out of fear that the American government would change its veto policy, and in order to stave off international pressure.
Construction in the territories, which is considered a violation of international law, has in recent years been the main reason for the freeze in the diplomatic process, the intensification of formal and informal boycotts against Israel and the European Union’s decision to label settlement products. The Israeli policy has created radicalisation—in both communities, Palestinian and settler— thereby ensuing rise in violence between them. Local disputes have expanded and intensified into violence against people and property. Israel, however, has turned such construction into a ‘national symbol’, even though it’s long since been proven that the settlements don’t help Israeli security, but harm it. An official adoption— of the Levy Report issued by the Israeli government— would be tantamount to a hasbara catastrophe/a harrowing delusion; no one in the world would accept the Israeli claim that nearly 50 years of military control is not an ‘occupation’.
— The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher based in Karachi.