The normalization agreement signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13 includes Israel’s suspension of its annexation plan. US President Donald Trump stated that Israel had agreed not to annex territories in the West Bank, saying that annexation was, “not off the table…more than just off the table. They have agreed not to do it.”
Yet Netanyahu himself states that it is only a temporary postponement. The Left is, of course, happy that annexation is cancelled, and on the Right there is disappointment and anger. Both sides, however, are ignoring what is happening in the field where Netanyahu has already been establishing facts on the ground for ever-increasingly dramatic moves of de facto annexation for several months. Case in point: two master plans for the establishment of a new settlement with thousands of housing units in the E1 area between Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem are currently approaching their final stage of approval.
In these days, when the threat of COVID-19 is so tangible and the demonstrations against corruption and the dysfunction of the prime minister are so invigorating, the Israeli public is hardly interested in the story of “another settlement.”
But E1 is not just another settlement, and its construction will affect the reality in the country for decades to come.
Suppose, for example, that the government hid a clause in a law that would cause the collapse of the next generation’s pension funds. It would be irresponsible on our part as a society to simply shrug and say that we do not have the skills to deal with the legal jargon in which the dramatic move is wrapped. By analogy, this is exactly what the Netanyahu government is doing today, when, through the planning procedures in the Civil Administration, it is eliminating the possibility of a peace agreement and the establishment of two states, and is instead condemning us to a reality of deepening apartheid.
In the midst of a huge economic and social crisis, Netanyahu is promoting the construction of a new settlement that will require huge investments at the expense of the real needs of this country’s citizens. But much more than that, Israeli construction in E1 will create an Israeli built-up area in the center of the West Bank; the connection between Ramallah & the northern West Bank and Bethlehem & the southern West Bank will be severed and, at best, have an artificial linkage through connecting roads but no real contiguity. Territorial continuity is a basic condition for the existence of a functioning state and E1 is possibly the most extreme example for how Israeli settlements are designed to prevent such contiguity and create the complete opposite: separated Palestinian enclaves that cannot survive on their own.
E1 is located on the central axis of the Palestinian metropolitan area that encompasses East Jerusalem from Ramallah in the north through Al-Azaria and Abu Dis to Bethlehem in the south – a distance of about 25 kilometers, as the crow flies, from north to south. This metropolis is home to about one million Palestinians for whom E1 is their only significant land reserve for economic and urban development. But when Israel’s strategy is aimed at control instead of peace, then the development and strengthening of the Palestinian space is perceived as a threat that must be thwarted.
The E1 area also illustrates the significance of preserving the existing situation in which Israelis and Palestinians live side by side while the latter lack basic human rights and are subject to the military rule of the former. E1 is not really an empty space; thousands of Bedouin live in concentrations of small communities in this area, the most famous of which is the Khan al-Ahmar community. And like Khan al-Ahmar, all of these communities are destined by Israel to be uprooted to the Palestinian enclaves we mentioned above. In this way, Israel hopes to achieve both control of the territory and the illusion that there are no Palestinians in it.
And yet, the millions of Palestinians living around E1 won’t simply disappear; so to preserve the illusion of their non-existence, Israel is developing a formidable system of highways full of tunnels and bridges, checkpoints and barriers that split the space and designed so that Israelis and Palestinians will travel without coming into contact with each other. At the height of this design lies an inter-city super highway, miles long, split down the middle with a wall: on one side Palestinians will travel and on the other side of the wall – on the same road – Israelis will travel. To the moral price-tag of this endeavor we must also add the huge financial cost that building this infrastructure will cost the Israeli economy. And of course, this powerful and costly system of control does not solve anything at its root, merely postpones what is becoming an increasingly complicated tangle and upping the price we will have to pay when the day comes to resolve it.
Until a few years ago, the decision to promote the E1 settlement would have made waves and be met with widespread public opposition. Today we are in a different situation, but the essential truths have not changed: this is a move initiated and promoted by the Israeli government and that even the most skilled demagogue will not be able to attribute to Palestinian refusal or any objective constraint. The Palestinians are not forcing Netanyahu to build a huge settlement in the heart of the West Bank; Israel, out of its own free will, is going to put another nail in the coffin of the possibility for a peace agreement by investing billions of shekels in infrastructure to continue controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians. Yet the gap between what Israeli citizens want and the policies their government is promoting is clearer today than ever before.
As in the face of corruption and the economic crisis, it is in our hands to set a limit for the government in light of the dangerous move at E1, and say “Enough.”