“Parashat Amona” (the Amona Affair) serves as a vivid example of what Israel may face should the unthinkable, from its perspective, happens forcing Israel to vacate and remove some (perhaps many) of the settlements constructed across Judea and Samaria AKA the West Bank. Amona, a tiny hilltop village of approximately two hundred inhabitants, had been founded in 1995 with government acquiescence and support as an Israeli outpost deep within the West Bank on Palestinian privately owned land in spite of the landowners’ objection. An outpost status suggests something less than permanency. But later it seems that the outpost had been “upgraded” to a settlement which clearly suggests permanency. The settlement had been served by Israeli utilities including electrical power, sanitary sewer and potable water supply. The inhabitants are mostly deeply religious Jews who strongly believe that regardless of the private ownership status of the land on which their homes were constructed, the land had been bequeathed to them by God and that they simply follow God’s eternal dictum.
Lengthy legal proceedings ensued and in 2006 Israel’s High Court of Justice issued a majority rule (not unanimous) that the land is indeed private and thus should be returned to its rightful Palestinian owners. Another ten years lapsed during which the government engaged in various attempts to circumvent the court order through political and legislative maneuvers. However, after repeated delays the government could not abrogate its responsibility to carry out the court order. During the first week of February 2017 the government implemented the evacuation of the settlers to the nearby settlement of Ofra where they will be given temporary accommodations until a “new Amona settlement is constructed” as promised by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Contemporaneous to the Amona evacuation and in addition to the promise of a “new settlement” on “government land”, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman, Israel’s Defense Minister, announced the construction of thousands new dwelling units to be built at existing settlements across the West Bank. It seems as though the Israeli government, emboldened by the apparent changes in long standing American administrations’ policies regarding the West Bank settlements, interpreted recent statements and tweets by President Trump, as well as the administration’s silence as a “green light” to free itself from the “shackles” and “constraints” imposed by the previous administration. From now on, Mr. Netanyahu surmised, obstacles to new construction had been removed and “life in Judea and Samaria have returned to normal” as Mr. Lieberman was quoted to say.
Furthermore, on February 1, 2017 the Jerusalem Post reported that Mr. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Education declared that in spite of the Amona evacuation, Israel will vigorously pursue its grand plan to apply Israeli sovereignty over the entire West Bank. Mr. Bennett remained silent regarding the fate of the Palestinian population under Israeli rule. In other words to formally annex the West Bank and bring the Palestinian populace under Israeli laws and governance without granting them equal rights. In addition, Mr. Bennett vowed to finally enact the pending legislation, known as the “Settlements Regulation Bill” that will retroactively legalize several thousand homes that were constructed at various settlements on privately owned Palestinian lands. In plain English – providing a legal mechanism for an Israeli current and future land grab. But it should be noted that the Israeli High Court of Justice may declare such a law illegal and surely such a law would fail any scrutiny by the international community, specifically by Israel’s most ardent supporters.
Taking Mr. Bennett, an ultranationalist-religious politician, at his word one must conclude that his rhetoric implies clearly the establishment of two distinct populations at the West Bank. The Israeli Jewish settlers who would, by virtue of their faith and Israeli citizenship, enjoy all privileges, civic and human rights under Israeli laws and the Palestinian populace who will continue to be subjugated to Israel and suffer deprivation of certain privileges and civic rights to self-determination. An unmistakable regime of apartheid will be enforced by Israel on the Palestinians.
In this context it should be noted that while the Israeli authorities, such as the Government Office of Planning, the City of Jerusalem and other local municipalities and county councils issue numerous building permits to facilitate expansion of existing settlements and breaking grounds for new ones, the number of building permits and land use determinations issued to Palestinians by the Israeli Military office of Civil Coordination (the ultimate authority across the West Bank) are relatively few regardless of the need to address natural growth.
A notable exception is the new and modern Palestinian city of Rawabi, being built on a hilltop of approximately 1,600 acres just north of Ramallah, aimed at being a home for nearly 30,000 inhabitants when completed. As any other construction projects across the West Bank, the city of Rawabi depends heavily on Israel’s Military office of Civil Coordination for its public utilities including access roads, electric power, potable water supply and sanitary sewer. Although some section of the city had been completed, only a portion of the completed homes are occupied. Many fear that by living in Rawabi, which is essentially a suburb of Ramallah, and working elsewhere will involve frequent travel disruptions and uncertainties such road blocks and check points along surrounding roads, Israeli-imposed blockades and curfews. Others within the Palestinian society bitterly noted that approval for the Rawabi land use and construction was granted by the Israeli Military office of Civil Coordination with only a minor involvement by the Palestinian Authority, another sign of the nearly total Palestinian subjugation to Israel. For that matter, none of the Israeli settlements and outposts were constructed with any involvement by the Palestinian Authority let alone any Palestinian approval.
On February 1, 2017 the European Union Foreign Secretary Ms. Federica Mogherini declared that it is the opinion of the European Commission that construction of thousands of new homes across the West Bank puts serious obstacles on achieving the so called Two State Solution. As I noted in an earlier post (January 24, 2017) I am not a proponent of the so called Two State Solution. The facts on the ground, in the form of Israeli settlements across the West Bank, coupled with Israel’s political reality, preclude any such solution.
On February 3, 2017 the Washington Post and other news outlets reported that the Trump administration warned Israel that any additional construction in the West Bank as well as the establishment of “new settlements” would be detrimental to the peace process and specifically to the prospect of achieving an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The White House remained silent on the issue of the Two State Solution and on the question of the legal status of the settlements. It should be noted that a somewhat softened statement was subsequently issued by the White House and that several observers interpreted the White House statements as a departure from policies held by previous American administrations for decades. Nevertheless, the core of the current statements remain true to opinions held and policies implemented by previous administrations.
On February 15, 2017 President Trump is scheduled to meet for the first time since taking office with Mr. Netanyahu. There are some uncertainties regarding the outcome of the meeting but based on recent articles published in various newspapers it seems that Israel stands to gain some latitude with regards to settlement activities and that the Trump administration appears to acquiesce to certain Israeli activities that were viewed utterly unacceptable by the Obama administration.
If the Amona affair serves any purpose, it clearly demonstrates that the likelihood of any future removal of any settlements or outposts, under any agreement with the Palestinians, is next to nil lest it will lead to events that may quickly get out of control, leading ultimately to violence. The evacuation of Amona required the deployment of police and military forces vastly disproportionate to the small number of evacuees. In addition, a large number of young religious zealots arrived at Amona on the evacuation day in an attempt to mount as many obstacles as possible. Tires were set on fire, stones were hurled and some protestants and policepersons were wounded albeit lightly. One can only imagine a hypothetical evacuation of a much larger settlement such as Ofra. If events at Amona resembled an act of civil disobedience, events at a large settlement will surely be a real battleground. Israel simply cannot afford such an event. It is inconceivable that any Israeli settlement will be included within any future Palestinian “autonomy area” let alone a sovereign state. It is further inconceivable, given the Israeli political climate that any annexation of the West Bank would result in Israel granting the annexed Palestinian populace the same exact rights, civic and otherwise, enjoyed by the Jewish inhabitants.
In the final analysis, the events at Amona confirmed beyond any doubt the final death of the Two State Solution. Israel finally has been successful in her efforts to embark on the road to apartheid. It is safe to assume that the support of an overtly apartheid state by any American administration will face fierce public and institutional opposition not unlike the opposition that lead ultimately to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.