Israel's settlements show it has no interest in peace

Israel's settlements show it has no interest in peace
Comment: The world has a duty to hold Israel accountable for its actions, writes Dan Arel.
6 min read
06 Jan, 2017
The Geneva Conventions made it illegal to build settlements on occupied land [AFP]

Shortly before Christmas, Resolution 2334 was adopted by the United Nations Security Council. It condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank, calling them a "flagrant violation under international law".

The US, under the direction of President Barack Obama, abstained from the vote, allowing the resolution to pass 14-0.

This was met with both praise and condemnation across the US and around the world. However, the decision was the right one, and the US and the rest of the world must continue to stand defiant against Israel's demands that they can rightfully expand, further oppressing the people of Palestine.

The US has long been committed to a two-state solution to bring peace. However, Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, though giving lip service to a two-state solution, has failed to act accordingly.

"I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel," he said during his 2015 election campaign. "There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders."

Much of this has come from the country's empowerment of the far-right, making the pro-Israel expansion sound much more mainstream. This isn't the case, however.

The world has a responsibility to continue to hold Israel responsible for its actions

"These days the right wing has a louder voice in Israel, and, in some ways, it also has a louder voice in America, because the people who are most actively and publicly Jewish, sectarian Jewish, share the right wing point of view, and are very pro-settlement," Samuel Heilman, a sociology professor of at Queens College specialising in Jewish life, told The New York Times. "But it's not the mainstream point of view."

The world has a responsibility to continue to hold Israel responsible for its actions. Israel touts itself as the Middle East's only democratic state, but the right wing has gained so much power, it acts outside the will of the people and takes on its own authoritarian policies.

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American Republicans, including President-elect Donald Trump, have sided with Israel, choosing to vilify Obama and his administration, instead of standing up for the rights of the Palestinian people, or staying on message with the US' goals for peace in the region.

Trump sent a tweet following the vote saying, "we cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the US, but… not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (UN)! Stay strong, Israel, January 20th is fast approaching."

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) even called for a cut-off of funds to the United Nations.

Netanyahu himself called the US decision "a disgrace" and said he felt the country's abstention was "a shameful ambush by the Obama administration".

Secretary of State John Kerry speaking days after the UN resolution's passing, explained why the US abstained. Kerry stated that the decision was driven by the desire to save Israel from the "most extreme elements" of its own government.

"The status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation," Kerry said in the speech. While there is plenty of irony in the US making such a statement, given its own dealings in the Middle East, it does not mean Kerry is wrong.

He made it clear that the US wanted a peaceful, two-state solution and was not going to let the far-right undo decades of work.

Rabbi John L Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood and chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, agreed with Kerry's assessment.

"I felt Kerry was exactly right," he said. "The people who will criticise him will take a leap and say he's anti-Israeli, just as some American Jews are saying Obama is an anti-Semite. This is ridiculous. They recognise and cherish the state of Israel."

Obama's decision, however, is perfectly in line with Washington's stated desire for peace in the region. Cherishing Israel means cherishing its right to exist, and for the people of the state to live peaceful lives. This does not mean cherishing a right-wing government's actions, and giving them free rein to act as they please.

Israel continues to act with impunity, expanding illegally in settlements and daring the world to act - then acting surprised when anyone takes action

Yet, if Israel wants to be the democratic state it claims to be, and wishes to be part of the UN, it must act according to UN expectations. Accepting the existence of a Palestinian state must be one of them. Creating an apartheid-like society is not fulfilling the duty to the UN or to peace, and only further distances Israel from the rest of the democratic world.

While pro-Israel expansion allies argue that the UN obsession has led to 47 resolutions involved the Israel-Palestine conflict, and resolution 465 already exists, making the settlements illegal, Israel continues to act with impunity, expanding illegally in settlements and daring the world to act - then acting surprised when anyone takes action.

Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim activist and author has asked why Palestine can't create a two-state solution while accepting 500,000 Jewish settlers into their ever-shrinking borders.

Writing for The Daily Beast, Nawaz wrote: "Why is it that Israel is expected to integrate - and does a reasonable job of including - the 20 percent of its population that is Arab, yet a Jewish presence of 500,000 settlers in any future Palestinian state is deemed 'an obstacle' to the two-state solution?"

He posited that the west sees Palestinians as fascist, asking: "Is this how low the standard is to which Western leftists hold Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims?"

Nawaz ignores the fact that Israel is trying to expand without working on a two-state solution. If the two-state solution was in progress and the move of 500,000 settlers would be settling in a Palestinian-controlled area, that would be a different story. However, this is not what Israel is doing, and their move to expand, without working with Palestinians, is the obstacle to a peaceful solution.

Israel is expanding through force, not diplomacy.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said during the vote: "One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution." This embodies the problem Nawaz is ignoring and exemplifies exactly why the US abstained and did not reject the UN resolution.

Peace is possible, but both sides will need to agree to meet at the table. Both Israel and Palestine have a lot of work to do before they are ready to do so, but by pushing settlements the way they are doing, Israel is sending a clear message that they have no interest in working towards a peace that is beneficial to both sides.


Dan Arel is a political activist, award-winning journalist and the author of The Secular Activist; and Parenting Without God. 

Follow him on Twitter: @danarel

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