Israel’s move to retroactively legalise settler homes in the occupied West Bank has triggered a storm of criticism.
Nowhere has this land grab been more apparent than in the Israeli parliament’s passage last week of a law that will retroactively legalise 16 West Bank outposts that were, like the recently evacuated Amona outpost, built by Israeli settlers on private Palestinian land, which was illegal under Israeli law.
Unfortunately, US President Donald Trump has given Israel several encouraging signs to accelerate its project of colonial expansion.
On Tuesday, Trump’s administration suggested that a solution to the conflict may not come in the form of two independent states, making it difficult to envision the US taking any action against the settlement enterprise.
Since Trump’s inauguration, Israel has approved the construction of more than 6,000 homes for Israeli citizens in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT).
In what seems to be a major break with former US policy that has positioned itself firmly against the building of settlements, Trump’s first and slightly critical statement about the settlements was that he did not consider settlements to be a “good thing for peace.”
With Trump and his administration emboldening Netanyahu, Israel is encouraged to disregard – even more than it has done for the past 50 years – its international legal obligations and speed up its colonisation of Palestinian lands.
The settlements, which are illegal under international law, have nullified the prospects of establishing an independent Palestinian state as Israel continues to transfer its citizens to the territories it occupies and seizes more land to build homes for them.
Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the state has used legislation, military orders, administrative decisions, and other state-sponsored instruments to displace Palestinians. These instruments dispossess Palestinians of their properties, often using security as a pretext, while restricting Palestinian construction.
For example, in 1950, Israel introduced the Absentee Property Law; the property of Palestinians who were not present on their lands when the state was established in 1948, was taken over by the state, which declared the property “abandoned”.
Furthermore, Israel has consistently limited the number of Palestinians who can enjoy the right to live in their homeland by denying them a legal status. For example, Israel considered Palestinians who remained in East Jerusalem after its occupation in 1967 as only residents, and then proceeded to revoke their residency status.
Since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency status of at least 14,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, robbing them of their right to live there. At the same time, construction of homes for Jewish citizens is encouraged and facilitated.
The new Israeli legislation is a grave violation of international law; the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from “transfer[ing] parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. This prohibition aims to protect the rights of the occupied people and the occupied nation from being exploited. It is consistent with the prohibition of expanding borders by force.
This action has been condemned as a war crime since the second world war.
The United Nations has consistently maintained that Israel’s construction of settlements in the OPT is illegal, as was recently reaffirmed by the UN Security Council resolution 2334 , which the US, under former President Barack Obama, refused to veto.
Once the outposts are validated by the Israeli legal system, the state will deal with them in the same way it does with settlements in the West Bank. It will cement the settlers’ presence and begin plans for expansion at the expense of Palestinians. It will give Israeli settlers the green light to trespass private land, knowing they could eventually own it.
The law provides no recourse to Palestinians who live under Israel’s military legal system in the West Bank. If not challenged, these practices will result in their permanent dispossession, the restriction of movement for Palestinians, and the solidification Israel’s apartheid regime.
While the law is only the latest chapter in Israel’s book of colonial policies, it is particularly significant as it applies, for the first time, Israeli civil law to the OPT, where it has no jurisdiction.
The rights groups emphasise that the law strengthens the domination of one group over the other, amounting to the crime of apartheid. The case’s lead lawyer, Suhad Bishara, said that the law not only puts Palestinians at risk of losing their property, but may even represent a “step toward a de facto annexation of these territories to Israel”.
By applying its own civil law extraterritorially, Israel appears to be attempting to show sovereignty in the areas it occupies. Indeed, according to Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, a grouping of illegal Israeli settlements, the law creates a framework that will allow the application of Israeli civil law in these areas. (“Samaria” is the Biblical term Israel uses for that part of the West Bank).
The Israeli parliament’s enactment of this law is alarming, not only to Palestinians, but to the international community as a whole.
For decades, the US, along with other world powers, has been facilitating negotiations between a powerful occupier and a vulnerable occupied people to bring about a solution, but this “peace process” has proven a sham and a failure.
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the number of Israelis living on occupied Palestinian territory has more than doubled, reaching approximately half a million today.
Though the agreement was meant to lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, the settlement activities have only meant more Israeli control over the land and resources of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Now, with Trump and his administration emboldening Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wing Israeli leaders, Israel is encouraged to disregard – even more than it has done for the past 50 years – its international legal obligations and speed up its colonisation of Palestinian lands.
Munir Nuseibah is a Policy Adviser at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network and cofounder and Director of the Al-Quds Human Rights Clinic.