Heavy machinery work on a field as they begin construction work of Amichai, a new settlement which will house some 300 Jewish settlers evicted in February from the settlement of Amona, in the West Bank June 20, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
RAMALLAH - Beyond the usual angst found within the pro forma response by the Palestinian Authority to news of new construction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, this time the response from Ramallah is adding an additional dimension: “Why is Netanyahu doing this just as the Trump administration is trying to kick-off its turn at the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace and why when President Trump himself asked Prime Minister to ‘hold-off’ on the building?”
This week the Israeli government began construction on an $17 million project to build a new enclave called Amichai. The settlement itself is comprised of the 42 families of former residents of an outpost called Amona that the court forced to re-locate after it ruled that the nascent community could not remain on land privately-owned by Palestinians. To the Palestinian Authority and its constituents, it matters very little whether the settlement sits on its prior hilltop or its new location near the West Bank city of Nablus.
Palestinian leadership is becoming more vocal in telling the Trump peace envoys, led by Jared Kushner, that the lack of American reaction to projects like Amichai cast doubt on Washington’s commitment to serve as honest broker for the next round of talks that many view with utter skepticism from the onset anyway. Kushner himself was quoted as asking whether there is a solution to the conflict
Speaking to The Media Line, Nabil Sha’ath, a senior Palestinian official who serves on the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization – the umbrella group recognized by the international community to speak on behalf of the Palestinians -- confirmed - expanding settlements in the West Bank will not leave any land left for Palestinians to negotiate for and leave no basis for a viable two-state solution.
“Israel’s continuation of settlement expansion in the West Bank exposes the Zionist agenda to steal the rest of the country…These endless violations [that go unchallenged] make us lose faith and trust in the Americans’ [commitment] to pushing the peace process.”
Sha’ath was blunt in his criticism of the Trump administration for not clearly condemning what the Palestinians – and many voices in the international community – see as Israeli violations. “Until now Trump hasn’t mentioned the two-state solution. This makes it difficult for the Americans to finally facilitate the historical singing of a two-state resolution.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has angrily condemned statements made by the Israeli Minister of Defense
Avigdor Liberman, who declared that the expansion of settlements in the West Bank “is Israel’s true iron curtain.” The Ministry charged that Liberman’s comments are unnecessarily provocative and prove Israel’s intent to confiscate additional Palestinian land.
"The expansion of the settlements in the West Bank is destroying the peace talks and the Palestinian social network,” Omar Abdallah, the head of the United Nations department at the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Media Line. He said, “Not only does it end the two-state solution, but it is considered as the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
Suha, a mother of six from a village near Nablus who asked not to use her surname, explained to The Media Line how hard it is to own lands located in what the 1993 Oslo Accords designated as “Area C” – Israeli administrative and security control. "My husband owns land that he can't reach anymore. It is all that we have besides our small house. We used to rely on farming to afford our living expenses, but we can’t get a permit for construction while we see the [Israeli] settlements expand. I won’t be surprised if we lose our land soon.”
Yet, many Israelis insist that the building of new settlements is not an obstacle for peace. Speaking to The Media Line, Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli diplomat, argued that Arab Israelis [referring to Arabs holding Israeli passports] build in Jerusalem, Haifa and other cities inside Israel, and it never been an issue for the Jews.
“The problem for Palestinians and Arabs has never been the settlements,” according to Ettinger. “[The Palestinians] are against the existence of Jews in this country. They think it should be an Islamic state." Ettinger concedes that Israel building the new settlement near Nablus will affect the peace process, but argues it shouldn't if “the Palestinians were truly eager to make peace with the Israelis.”
Martin Sherman, a former politician and the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, agrees that building settlements in the West Bank is a positive thing politically and economically, but he posits “the Palestinians are seeking justice, and justice to them is the removal of the state of Israel.”