By Ramzy Baroud
Israeli Jewish settlers are on the rampage in the West Bank. While settler violence is part of everyday routine in Palestine, the increased violence of recent weeks is directly linked to the upcoming general election in Israel, which is scheduledto be held on Sept. 17.
The previous elections, on April 9, failedto bring about political stability. Although Benjamin Netanyahu is now the longest-servingprime minister in Israel’s 71-year history, he was unable to form a coalition government. Tarnished by a series of corruption casesinvolving himself, his family and aides, Netanyahu’s leadership is in an unenviable position. Police investigators are closing in on him, while opportunistic political allies like Avigdor Lieberman are twistinghis arm in the hope of exacting future political concessions.
The political crisis in Israel is not the outcome of a resurrected Labor or invigorated centrist parties, but of the failure of the right (including far-right and ultra-nationalist parties) to articulate a unified political agenda.
Illegal Jewish settlers understand that the identity of any future right-wing government coalition will have a lasting impact on their colonial enterprise. The settlers, however, are not exactly worried, since all major political parties, including the Blue and White centrist party of Benny Gantz, have made supporting Jewish colonies an important aspect of their campaigns.
The decisive vote of the Jewish settlers of the West Bank and their backers inside Israel became very clear in the last election. Their power has subsequently forced Gantz to adopt an entirely different political stance. The man who, on April 7 (two days before the last election), criticizedNetanyahu’s “irresponsible” announcement regarding his intention to annex the West Bank settlements, is now a great supporter of the settlements. According to the Israeli news website Arutz Sheva, Gantz vowedto continue expanding the settlements “from a strategic point of view and not as a political strategy.”
Considering the shift in Gantz’s perspective regarding the settlements, Netanyahu is left with no other option but to up the ante — and he is now pushing for the complete and irreversible annexation of the West Bank. Annexing the West Bank, from Netanyahu’s viewpoint, is a sound political strategy. The Israeli prime minister is, of course, oblivious to international law, which sees Israel’s military and settler presence as illegal. But neither Netanyahu, nor any other Israeli leader for that matter, have ever cared about international law. All that truly counts for Israel is Washington’s support, which is often blind and unconditional.
According to the Times of Israel newspaper, Netanyahu is now officially lobbyingfor a public statement by US President Donald Trump to back Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. Although the White House refused to comment on the story, and an official in Netanyahu’s office claimed that it was “incorrect,” the Israeli right is on the fast track to making that annexation possible. Encouraged by US ambassador David Friedman’s commentthat “Israel has the right to retain some of the West Bank,” more Israeli officials are speaking boldly and openly regarding their intentions of making that annexation possible.
Netanyahu hintedat that possibility during a visit to Beit El this month. “We come to build. Our hands will reach out and we will deepen our roots in our homeland — in all parts of it,” he said during a ceremony celebrating the expansion of the illegal settlement to include 650 more housing units.
Unlike Netanyahu, former Israeli justice minister and leader of the newly formed United Right, Ayelet Shaked, did not speak in code. In an interviewwith the Jerusalem Post, she called for the full annexation of Area C, which constitutes nearly 60 percent of the West Bank. “We have to apply sovereignty to Judea and Samaria,” she said, referring to the Palestinian land using biblical designations.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, however, wants to go the extra mile. According to Arutz Sheva and the Jerusalem Post, Erdan has calledfor the annexation of all illegal settlements in the West Bank and the ouster of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.
Now situated at the heart of Israeli politics, Jewish settlers are enjoying the spectacle as they are being courted by all major political parties. Their increased violence in the West Bank is a form of political muscle-flexing, an expression of dominance and a brutish display of political priorities.
“There’s only one flag from the Jordan to the sea — the flag of Israel,” was the slogan of a rallyinvolving more than 1,200 Jewish settlers who roamed the streets of the Palestinian city of Hebron last week. The settlers, together with Israeli soldiers, stormed Al-Shuhada Street and harassed Palestinians and international activists.
A few days earlier, an estimated 1,700 Jewish settlers, backed by Israeli police, stormedAl-Haram Al Sharif in East Jerusalem. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, more than 60 Palestinians were wounded when Israeli forces and settlers attacked worshippers. This violent scene was repeated in Nablus, where armed women settlers stormedthe town of Al-Masoudiya and conducted “military training” under the protection of the Israeli army.
The settlers’ message is clear: We now rule the roost, not only in the West Bank, but in Israeli politics too.
All of this is happening as if it is entirely an Israeli political affair. The PA, which has now been dropped out of American political calculations altogether, is left to issue occasional, irrelevant press releases about its intentionto hold Israel accountable according to international law. But the guardians of international law are also suspiciously absent. Neither the UN nor the advocates of democracy and international law in the EU seem interested in confronting Israel’s intransigence and blatant violations of human rights.
With Jewish settlers dictating the political agenda in Israel, and constantly provoking Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, violence is likely to increase exponentially in the coming months. As is often the case, this violence will be used strategically by the Israeli government; this time to set the stage for a final and complete annexation of Palestinian land — a disastrous outcome by any count.