By Ramzy Baroud
The international uproar in response to Israel’s approval of a massive expansion of its illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied West Bank may give the impression that such a reaction could, in theory, force it to abandon its plans. Alas, it will not, because the statements of concern, regret, disappointment and even outright condemnation are rarely followed up with meaningful action.
True, the international community has a political and even legal frame of reference regarding its position on the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Unfortunately, however, it has no genuine political mandate, or the inclination to act individually or collectively, to bring this occupation to an end.
This is precisely why last week’s announcement by Israel that it has given “final approval” for the building of 1,800 housing units and initial approval for another 1,344 is unlikely to be reversed anytime soon. One ought to keep in mind that this decision came only two days after the Israeli government had issued construction tenders for another 1,355 housing units in the West Bank.
Israel has rarely, if ever, reversed such decisions. Moreover, since Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, its colonial project has remained in a state of constant and unhindered expansion. Fifty-four years should be enough for the international community to realize that Israel has no intentions whatsoever to end its military occupation of its own accord, to respect international law or to cease the construction of illegal settlements.
Yet, despite this, the international community continues to issue statements — moderate in their language at times and even angry at others — without ever taking a single action to punish Israel.
A quick examination of the US government’s reaction to the news of the latest settlement expansion tells of the lack of seriousness in Washington toward Israel’s continued disregard of international law, peace and security in the Middle East. “We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price, adding that the Israeli decision is “completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tension and ensure calm.”
Since when was Israel concerned about “lowering tensions” and “ensuring calm?” If these were truly important US demands and expectations, why then does America keep funneling billions of dollars a year in military aid to Israel, knowing full well that it will be used to sustain the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine and other Arab lands?
If, for the sake of argument, we assume that Washington is finally shifting its policies on Israel and Palestine, how does it intend to pressure Israel to cease settlement construction? Price has the answer: The Biden administration will “raise our views on this issue directly with senior Israeli officials in our private discussions,” he said last week. So the US will raise its views, as opposed to demanding accountability, threatening retaliation or withholding funds.
While it is true that the US government is Israel’s main Western benefactor, Washington is not the only hypocritical administration in this regard. The Europeans are not fundamentally different, even though their statements might be a tad stronger in terms of language.
“Settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between the parties,” read a statement issued by the office of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday. This mirrors the exact sentiments and language of numerous statements issued in the past; ones that “strongly reject” the Israeli action and “urge” the Israeli government to “revoke” its recent decisions for the sake of “sustainable peace,” and so on. The task of preparing these statements must be the easiest of all clerical jobs at the EU’s offices, as it is largely a matter of a simple cut and paste.
And when it comes to action, Brussels, like Washington, refrains from taking any. Worse, these entities often bankroll the very actions they protest, while insisting they are standing at the exact same distance between Israelis and Palestinians, assigning themselves such roles as “honest peace brokers,” “peace mediators” and the like.
One should not be in the least bit surprised by Israel’s recent announcement. In fact, we should expect more settlement expansion and even the construction of new settlements, because that is what colonial Israel does best.
Within a matter of a few days, Israel has announced its intention to build, or accept bids for, nearly 4,500 settlement units. Compare this with the settlement expansion seen during Donald Trump’s time in office. “Israel promoted plans for more than 30,000 settler homes in the West Bank during the four years (Trump) was in power,” the BBC reported, citing Israeli group Peace Now. But if the new Israeli government under Naftali Bennett continues with this hurried pace of illegal housing construction, it could potentially match — and even overtake — the expansion that took place during the terrible years of the Trump era. With no accountability, this catastrophic political paradigm will remain in place, irrespective of who rules Israel and who resides in the White House.
Israel is doing what any colonial power does: It expands at the expense of the native population. The onus is not on colonial powers to behave themselves, but on the rest of the world to hold them to account. This was also true in the case of South African apartheid and numerous other examples throughout the Global South.
The truth is that a thousand or even a million more statements by Western governments will not end the Israeli occupation or even slow the pace of Israeli bulldozers as they uproot Palestinian trees and destroy Palestinian homes to make way for yet more illegal colonies. If the West’s words are not backed up by action — which is very much possible, considering the massive military, political and economic leverage it wields over Israel — then it will remain a party to this conflict, not as a “peace broker” but as a direct supporter of the Israeli occupation and apartheid.