The conflict between Israel and Hamas continues to distract from the Israeli land grab in the West Bank, which has accelerated under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister and now electoral list partner Avigdor Lieberman, who says Palestinians should settle for just 40% of.
Israel currently takes 80% of vital water supplies in the West Bank ; and 64% of the West Bank is already under Israeli military control under the one sided Oslo Accords ( not all has been annexed yet, although the Israeli military are telling more Palestinian farmers to get off their land within Zone C (the 64%) all the time) (2) – (5)
As soon as the Gaza crisis became the media focus Netanyahu’s Finance Minister Yuval Stenitz told Israeli journalists “we doubled the budgets [allocated] to Judea and Samaria. We did it with a low profile” so that “elements in Israel and abroad” wouldn’t block it (6).
(All Israeli governments call the West Bank by it’s ancient biblical period name of ‘Judea and Samaria’ in order to try to claim it is all similarly part of the modern state of Israel by right – a claim about as valid as if the Italian government claimed a right to rule over the entire former Roman Empire, or a modern Assyrian Iraqi to the ancient Assyrian empire.)
Netanyahu’s government has gone beyond even previous Israeli government’s annexation of West Bank land by formally authorising Israeli settlements even East of the vast Israeli “barrier wall”. These new settlements are not only illegal under international law (as all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are) but even under Israeli law according to Israeli Supreme Court rulings (7).
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak (who was also Defence minister in the previous government during the previous Gaza war in December 2008 to January 2009) personally approved the five-fold expansion of one West Bank settlement in September (8). A freedom of information request by an Israeli peace campaigner found that Barak’s Defense ministry has marked 10% of the West Bank for expansion of settlements over the years, including many settlements illegal under Israeli law which were later approved by the government (9).
The Israeli group Peace Now also say more West Bank settler houses were constructed in 2010 (9 months of which were part of a moratorium on settlement construction meant to allow negotiations) than in 2009, before the moratorium (10).
All this will boost the vote for Barak’s new party and even more so the joint election list announced by Netanyahu for his Likud party along with Leiberman , whose Yisrael Beitenu party won more seats than Labor in the 2009 elections and whose support base comes from immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union – mostly Russian, secular, but hardline Israeli nationalists (11).
The collapse of the Soviet Union’s economy, especially under Yeltsin’s complete free market “reforms” created a few dozen billionaires while leaving millions with nothing. Israel by comparison provides cheap housing to settlers (land taken by force doesn’t have to be paid for after all) and some welfare payments including child benefit to it’s citizens
Israel’s ‘Law of return’ allows anyone with one Jewish grandparent or who has converted to Judaism as a religion the right to Israeli citizenship. In practice their partners are usually granted citizenship too, unless they are Palestinians or Arabs (12).
The Israeli government is also forcibly relocating Bedouin Israeli-Arab Israeli citizens from the Negev region within Israel itself in order to make way for Jewish settlements within that part of Israel, who, like 19th century American Indians, have been forced to move twice already (once in the 1948 war and again in the 1950s) to make way for settlers (13) – (14).
This is all part of trying to solve “the demographic problem” which is a euphemism for the Arab birth rate being higher than the Jewish birth rate within Israel and the occupied territories. The Israeli government wants to settle most of the West Bank without ending up with an Arab majority (15).
The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza serves to distract the US, the UN and international media from the West Bank and settlements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah ended negotiations with Netanyahu’s government in November 2010 because Netanyahu refused to continue a freeze on new settlement building in the West Bank, and returned to coalition with Hamas (the other half of the elected Palestinian government since the 2006 elections) from April 2011. (16).
The useful distraction from the West Bank may well be one of the reasons the Israeli government refuses to negotiate on anything with Hamas except for ceasefire agreements, despite Hamas being half the elected Palestinian government and despite some of it’s leaders and spokesmen having offered negotiations repeatedly on the basis of the 1967 borders (17) – (18)
Whether any of these offers are genuine or not is debateable, but as many Israelis including former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet say there should be negotiations with Hamas without preconditions, because if even some of Hamas are serious about negotiations it will swing influence within the organisation in their favour if Israel actually makes any serious concessions (i.e full sovereignty for a Palestinian state in Gaza and the majority of the West Bank, including most of the water and farmland).
If Hamas are not genuine Israel has it’s overwhelming military strength not to mention the world’s only remaining superpower the US as an ally, so it has nothing to lose by negotiating – except the majority of West Bank land and water which it wants to keep for itself.
Israeli governments claim Hamas’ offers of negotiations on the basis of a ‘Hudna’ (an Islamic term from the Quran) for the 1967 borders are similarly just for an extended ceasefire and so worthless, though opinion among experts and even Hamas leaders on what a Hudna involves is divided.
(1) = Guardian.co.uk 14 Nov 2012 ‘Israel threatens to overthrow Abbas over Palestinian statehood bid’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/14/israeli-minister-threatens-abbas-un ; ‘Lieberman's draft paper proposed Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state on provisional borders encompassing around 40% of the West Bank in exchange for the Palestinian leadership dropping its approach to the United Nations.’ (3rd from last paragraph)
(3) = Amnesty International 27 Oct 2009 ‘Israel rations Palestinians to trickle of water’, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/israel-rations-palestinians-trickle-water-20091027
(7) = UNoCHA IRIN news 14 May 2012 ‘Analysis: Israeli government challenges the law to embrace illegal settler outposts’, http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95445/Analysis-Israeli-government-challenges-the-law-to-embrace-illegal-settler-outposts
(8) = Haaretz 12 Nov 2012 ‘Barak approves plans to build 500 new homes in West Bank settlement’, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/barak-approves-plans-to-build-500-new-homes-in-west-bank-settlement.premium-1.476862
(10) = Peace Now 23 Dec 2010 ‘Intensive construction in every other settlement’, http://peacenow.org.il/eng/content/intensive-construction-every-other-settlement
(11) = Ynet News (Israel) 25 Oct 2012 ‘Netanyahu, Lieberman join forces ahead of elections’,
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4297100,00.html ; ‘Nearly six months after shocking the political system by forming a unity government with Kadima, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has thrown another curve ball and joined forces with Avigdor Lieberman ahead of the upcoming elections. In a press conference held Thursday evening, the two men announced they were uniting the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu under one ticket. …The move is aimed at creating the largest list in the Knesset elections thus guaranteeing that Netanyahu will form the next government.’
(12) = Haaretz 12 Jan 2012 ‘Supreme Court upholds ban on Palestinians living with Israeli spouses’, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/supreme-court-upholds-ban-on-palestinians-living-with-israeli-spouses-1.406812
(13) = Ynet news (Israel) 29 Sep 2012 ‘'Turning Bedouin village into Jewish settlement is racist'’, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4287018,00.html
(14) = +972 magazine 02 Oct 2012 ‘Bedouin village in Negev to be destroyed, Jewish settlement to be built on site’, http://972mag.com/bedouin-village-in-negev-to-be-destroyed-jewish-settlement-to-be-built-on-site/56875/
(15) = See this web page and sources for it (please note – the claim on it that child benefit is not given to Israeli Arabs is out of date and inaccurate – I’ve since found out that there used to be a lower rate of child benefit for Israeli Arabs than Israeli Jews, but they have since been equalised – see Haaretz 16 Dec 2009 ‘BoI: Child benefits boost Arab, Haredi birthrates’,
(16) = BBC News 21 Nov 2010 ‘Abbas rules out talks without full settlement freeze’
(17) = Haaretz 25 Dec 2011 ‘Netanyahu: Israel will not negotiate with Palestinians should Hamas join government’, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/netanyahu-israel-will-not-negotiate-with-palestinians-should-hamas-join-government-1.403547 ; ‘"If Hamas joins the Palestinian government we will not hold negotiations with the Palestinian Authority," said Netanyahu in a speech at a conference for Israeli ambassadors.’
(18) = Israel National News 06 Feb 2012 ‘Netanyahu to Abbas: 'You Can't Have it Both Ways',
http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/152462 ; ‘Israel's Prime Minister issued an ultimatum to officials in Ramallah that they must choose between Hamas and peace with Israel…. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday responded to an agreement signed by Fatah and Hamas in Doha saying the Palestinian Authority "can't have it both ways’