In an unprecedented political move, the Israeli Settlement Affairs Ministry announced a US$6 million investment that will give settlers the power of surveillance over the Palestinian population in Area C, a bid to “monitor illegal Palestinian construction.” The program, which has already garnered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval, will allow Israeli settlers to purchase surveillance equipment, and is likely to complement Israel’s de-facto annexation plans.
Area C constitutes 60 percent of the occupied West Bank where, according to the NGO B’Tselem, settlers currently outnumber the Palestinian population. Israel has already deprived Palestinians of two thirds of the land in Area C, while the remaining land allocated to Palestinians is subject to an array of legislation that prevents Palestinians from building their own homes. The absence of building permits has fueled what Israel terms “illegal construction.”
The Nakba’s bloody, ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population has been modified to a series of normalized Israeli violations used to criminalize Palestinians’ basic rights. While the international community has adopted a lenient approach towards Israel’s forced displacement of the Palestinian population and colonial settlement expansion, outgoing US President Donald Trump accelerated the process.
Trump’s tenure may well be associated with the “Deal of the Century” when it comes to Israeli and Palestinian diplomatic relations. The initial ambivalence, which at first attracted derision, gradually unfolded into a series of US unilateral concessions to Israel, culminating in the annexation plans that were suspended after the Abraham Accords normalization agreements between the settler-colonial state and the United Arab Emirates.
One major US concession to Israel was US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement which went against international consensus. “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo declared to reporters at the US State Department in November 2019.
The non-binding UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016), which the US under the outgoing Obama administration abstained from, reaffirmed that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law.”
Israel’s latest concession to the settler lobby further reaffirms the government’s contempt of international law.
Israel’s latest concession to the settler lobby further reaffirms the government’s contempt of international law, which is not a difficult feat to achieve. Having supported Israel’s establishment, the UN is too deeply mired in colonial complicity to alter its political agenda. Its acceptance of Israel as a state also signals international impunity for its settler population.
The latter is what stands out the most in terms of colonial impunity. From the first settlements in the late 19th century, Zionism was concerned with eventually establishing a gradual demographic majority of Jewish settlers in Palestine to ensure the survival of a future Israeli state. The myth of the barren land was juxtaposed against the politics of modernization employed by Zionism, which sought to portray the Palestinian people as unable to cultivate the land. Laying down the necessary infrastructure for the Israeli state was an important step in terms of attracting settlers willing to participate in the colonization process.
The 1948 Nakba created a mass exodus of Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their land, followed by another wave in the aftermath of the 1967 war, when Israel extended its colonial project through military occupation over the entire territory. Since 1949, Zionist politicians aimed to appropriate the West Bank for Israel’s colonial project, as Haim Bresheeth’s book, “An Army Like No Other,” clearly states. Post 1967, as settlements increased in the occupied West Bank, Israel clarified it would not be reversing any of its appropriation, while adamantly taking action that would contribute to the forced transfer of Palestinians.
Settler violence, in which Palestinians and their property are relentlessly targeted, is carried out under the auspices of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Settler violence, in which Palestinians and their property are relentlessly targeted, is carried out under the auspices of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). What Israel is now proposing in terms of the settler population being granted the means through which to control the Palestinian population, also ties directly into the normalization of violence in Israeli society. The distinction between the Israeli settler population and the IDF is almost imperceptible due to the state’s propaganda of a perpetual war against the Palestinian indigenous population. It is not surprising, therefore, that the settler lobby, which is an influential component of Israeli politics, is not only granted impunity but also the power to conduct itself in manners similar to the Israeli state and military.
While annexation has, for now, been marginalized from news headlines, Israel’s decision to involve settlers in the surveillance of Palestinian civilians in Area C is indicative of the de-facto annexation which is taking place in the absence of formal recognition of Israel’s colonial expansion. A recent report by Breaking the Silence shows how Israel is advancing the settlement enterprise in the occupied West Bank through road planning, which prevents Palestinians from building their homes while enabling contiguity in terms of settlement expansion.
Israel has not ceased its settlement activity, thus affirming that while Trump’s support emboldened the push for annexation, Biden’s probable reticence, at face value, will not deter the colonial project from its course. After all, it has decades of international support behind it, no matter how many non-binding resolutions against settlement expansion are drafted and voted upon at the UN.
The UN has consistently differentiated between the earlier historical landgrab and the post-1967 settlement expansion.
The UN made one crucial mistake that continues to jeopardize Palestinian security. Since Israel was admitted into the international fold and recognized as a state, despite Zionism ethnically cleansing Palestine in preparation for colonial expansion, the UN has consistently differentiated between the earlier historical landgrab and the post-1967 settlement expansion. Israel’s origins, as macabre as they are, have been absolved of the earlier settler-colonial crimes.
To find fault now in the relationship between the Israeli state and its settler violence would require a reckoning with past mistakes and acknowledgement of the early settler-colonial violence and expansion as a crime against the Palestinian people. In light of the impending annexation, the Israeli surveillance project ought to raise concerns at an international level, if only the UN hadn’t normalized and defended the Israeli state and settler violence to protect the Zionist colonial project.