'Cultivating settlements': Israel's colonial expansion rebranded

'Cultivating settlements': Israel's colonial expansion rebranded
Comment: Dropping the term 'annexation' will make it easier for Israel to continue its colonial project without being reprimanded by the international community, writes Ramona Wadi.
6 min read
13 Aug, 2020
'Israel is blurring the distinction between settler-colonists and the indigenous Palestinian population' [Getty]

July 1 this year was touted by the Israeli government as the date for setting annexation plans in motion.

Backed at first by US President Donald Trump's "Deal of the Century", the plan to annex swathes of occupied West Bank territory attracted little opposition from the international community, other than the usual 'concern' and recommendations. 

A short time later the US says it is no longer prioritising annexation, and recent news has revealed why. The US-brokered deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalise relations includes a clause that would apparently see Israel halt its annexation plans, if temporarily

Prior to President Trump's announcement of the UAE-Israel agreement, Israel's prime minister designate Benny Gantz came up with a less obvious alternative to outright annexation in the current circumstances of coronavirus outbreaks and US reticence: To "cultivate" existing settlements. Extending sovereignty, or formalising the next colonial land grab, can come later. 

Israel is in no haste, after all. Trump's series of unilateral decisions since the beginning of his presidency have indeed accelerated and facilitated colonial expansion in Palestine. With the US elections drawing nearer, and the possibility of Trump losing the presidency, the need to execute annexation with a PR flourish is no longer such a priority. 

Unless Israeli actions are classified as 'annexation', the international community is under no diplomatic pressure to act

In reality, the UAE-Israel deal facilitates the issue of annexation regardless of who wins the US elections, since there is no stipulation for Israel to halt settlement expansion.

In the long run, there is little to no chance that a new US president will completely reverse Trump's support for Israel. Focusing on the normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab countries bridges the narrow ideological gap between Trump and Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

Gantz's proposal of "cultivating settlements", especially when the generic phrase "West Bank farmers" is used to include settler colonies in the equation, will serve to alienate the international community even further from what is at stake. 

While Gantz attributed this shift in Israeli politics to the coronavirus pandemic, it is also likely that Israel is mulling the possibility of dealing with changes in US foreign policy regarding Palestine and Israel. Trump has shifted from overtly backing Israel's most controversial desires, to a more diplomatic approach, which Netanyahu himself has also promoted.  

One technique that enables Israel to keep in line with the "Deal of the Century" and ostensibly conform to UN rhetoric over settlement expansion, is to blur the distinction between settler-colonists and the indigenous Palestinian population. Unless Israeli actions are classified as "annexation", the international community is under no diplomatic pressure to act. 

Recently, the EU demonstrated its weak approach to opposing Israeli settlement expansion by simply writing a protest letter to Israel's foreign ministry, at a time when annexation is not yet off the table. Such passive action would have been deplorable even before Trump's deal. In the current scenario, it is a clear admission of abdicating any remnants of upholding international law. 

Read more: How the Israel-UAE alliance formalises new fault lines in the Middle East

And yet, recent history provides ample evidence of how the international community fails to act to hold Israel accountable for the colonisation process. UN Resolution 2334 (2016) is one such instance where the UN Security Council deemed Israeli settlement activity since 1967 "has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."

The resolution is non-binding, allowing it to be exploited both by Israel and the international community. Israel is under no obligation to abide by a non-binding resolution, while the international community, despite voting for the text, is also under no obligation to ensure its implementation. 

Not even when the International Criminal Court declared Israeli settlements a war crime, did the UN move towards cohesion regarding Israeli settlement expansion. The chance to alter the prevailing Israeli narrative was lost amid the UN's wasted posturing over Trump's deal and the fixation on constructing the US as outside international consensus over the two-state compromise.

There is one question, however, which should be asked: If the US has truly deviated from international consensus, why hasn't the international community completely distanced itself from the "Deal of the Century"? 

Trump's deal builds upon the delays enacted by the two-state paradigm; the difference between the two is that the former proactively provides Israel with possibilities to formalise its colonial project.

However, had the UN considered other options, including the Palestinian people's legitimate right to anti-colonial resistance under international law, Israel would have hit considerable setbacks. Anti-colonial resistance supported by the international community would have pushed the Zionist colonial project into a thorough reckoning through diplomatic, economic and political isolation.

In the absence of such a scenario, owing to UN complicity in enabling and protecting colonialism in Palestine, it is the Palestinian people who are isolated. Countries advocating for the two-state compromise and claiming to support Palestinians are indulging themselves in a lie that keeps regenerating itself. Supporting the two-state compromise only supports the international community's weak diplomacy. 

As a resut, it is not only Trump who has facilitated this latest phase in Zionist colonial expansion. The international community scripted its beginnings, and Israel can now avail itself of two seemingly different roadmaps which lead to whatever Israel decides it wants to achieve.

Israel can now avail itself of two seemingly different roadmaps

If the Israeli government decides to "cultivate settlements" - a term that is ambiguous and also possibly inclusive of further settlement expansion - the international community will be spared the burden of taking a stance against annexation, and will fall back on the usual warnings that settlements violate international law, as if Israel didn't know that already.

The UN's next step, predictable as it is, will be to differentiate between settlement expansion and annexation, just as it did with previous Israeli infringements of international law, such as forced displacement which is treated as a humanitarian issue, rather than a political violation as a result of colonial land grab. 

Settlements are an obstacle to "peace" and to the two-state diplomacy, something the UN has reiterated on several occasions. Maybe the UN should update to describing settlements and its two-state diplomacy as the foundations upon which the "Deal of the Century" and annexation rest.

The UN has failed Palestinians. It is high time the institution clarifies its intent, after decades of allowing Israel to steal Palestinian land, while eliminating all possibilities for decolonisation and Palestinian land reclamation.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

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.