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Jewish Settlers Rule the Roost in Israel, but at What Cost?

Jewish Israeli settlers are on a roll as they rampage across the occupied Palestinian West Bank. While settler violence is part of the daily routine in Palestine, the violence of recent weeks is linked directly to the General Election in Israel, (https://www.timesofisrael.com/knesset-votes-for-new-elections-on-september-17-after-pm-fails-to-form-coalition/) scheduled to be held on 17 September.

The previous election, just four months ago on 9 April, (https://www.timesofisrael.com/the-final-results-of-aprils-election-are-in-no-one-won-netanyahu-lost/) failed to bring about political stability. Although Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is now the (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-49043102) longest-serving Prime Minister in the 71-year history of the country, he was still unable to form a government coalition.

Tarnished by a series of (https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/elections/netanyahu-suspect-in-three-corruption-cases-is-now-israel-s-justice-minister-1.7332234) corruption cases involving himself, his family and aides, Netanyahu's leadership is in an unenviable position. Police investigators are closing in on him, while opportunistic political allies, such as Avigdor Lieberman, are (https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-lieberman-must-be-prime-minister-for-netanyahu-s-crisis-to-be-resolved-1.7299750) twisting his arm in the hope of exacting future political concessions.

The political crisis in Israel is not the outcome of a resurrected Labor or invigorated central parties, but the failure of the Right (including far-right and ultra-nationalist parties) to articulate a unified political agenda.

Illegal Jewish settlers understand well that the future identity of any 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 that of the Blue and White, the supposedly centrist party of Benjamin Gantz, have made support for Jewish colonies an important part of their election 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 forced Gantz to adopt an entirely different political approach.

The man who, two days before polling day in April, (https://www.timesofisrael.com/gantz-blasts-netanyahus-annexation-pledge-as-irresponsible-bid-for-votes/) criticized Netanyahu's "irresponsible" announcement regarding his intention to annex the West Bank, is now apparently a great supporter of the settlements. According to the Israeli news website Arutz Sheva, Gantz has (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/267152) vowed to 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. He is now pushing for complete and irreversible annexation of the West Bank.

Annexing the occupied Palestinian territory is, from Netanyahu's point of view, a sound political strategy. The Israeli Prime Minister, of course, is oblivious to international law which regards Israel's military and settler presence as illegal. Neither Netanyahu nor any other Israeli leader, though, has ever cared about international law. All that truly counts as far as Israel is concerned, is that it has Washington's support, both blind and unconditional.

According to the Times of Israel, Netanyahu is now officially (https://www.timesofisrael.com/before-elections-pm-wants-trump-to-back-israeli-sovereignty-over-settlements/) lobbying for 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 make that annexation possible.

Encouraged by US Ambassador David Friedman's (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/08/us-ambassador-israel-david-friedman-west-bank-annexation) comment that, "Israel has the right to retain some of the West Bank," more Israeli officials are speaking boldly and openly regarding their intentions to annex the occupied territory. Netanyahu actually (https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Politicians-call-for-West-Bank-annexation-in-response-to-terror-attack-598025) hinted at that possibility in August during a visit to the illegal settlement of Beit El. "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 at a ceremony celebrating the expansion of the illegal settlements with another 650 housing units.

Unlike Netanyahu, former Israeli Justice Minister and leader of the newly-formed United Right, Ayelet Shaked, didn't speak in code. In an (https://www.jpost.com/Israel-Elections/Shaked-No-chance-Netanyahu-will-annex-settlements-without-United-Right-597762) interview with 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," insisted Shaked, using Biblical terminology to describe Palestinian land as if that somehow strengthened her case.

Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information Minister Gilad Erdan, however, wants to go the extra mile. According to Arutz Sheva and the Jerusalem Post, Erdan has (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/264665) called for the annexation of all illegal settlements in the West Bank as well as the ouster of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Now situated at the center of Israeli politics, Jewish settlers are enjoying the spectacle of being courted by all major political parties. Their increased violence against the indigenous Palestinians 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 (https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190815-french-jews-march-through-hebron-claiming-all-west-bank-belongs-to-israel/) rally involving over 1,200 Jewish settlers who roamed the streets of the Palestinian city of Hebron on 14 August. The settlers, together with Israeli soldiers, stormed along Al-Shuhada Street and harassed Palestinian residents and international activists in the beleaguered city.

Just a few days earlier, an estimated 1,700 Jewish settlers, backed by Israeli police, (https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/over-1-700-settlers-storm-al-aqsa-mosque/1555098) stormed into Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, over 60 Palestinians were wounded when Israeli forces and settlers attacked Muslim worshippers. The violence was repeated in Nablus, where armed women settlers (https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2019/8/13/israeli-settlers-storm-palestinian-town-carry-out-military-exercises) stormed the town of Al-Masoudiya and conducted "military training" under the protection of the Israeli occupation army. The settlers' message is clear: we now rule the roost, not only in the West Bank but in Israeli politics as well.

At what cost, though? All of this is happening as if it is entirely an Israeli political affair. The PA, which has now been dropped out of US political calculations altogether, is left to issue occasional, irrelevant press releases about its (https://www.timesofisrael.com/palestinians-weigh-icc-complaint-against-us-envoy-for-annexation-remarks/) intention to hold Israel accountable according to international law.

Moreover, the guardians of international law are also suspiciously absent. Neither the United Nations nor advocates of democracy and international law in the European Union, seem to be interested in confronting Israeli 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 grow exponentially in the coming months. As is often the case, this will be used strategically by the Israeli government, this time to set the stage for a final and complete annexation of Palestinian land. That will be a disastrous outcome, no matter which way you look at it.

- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of The Palestine Chronicle. His last book is 'The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story' (Pluto Press, London) and his forthcoming book is 'These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons' (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter. His website is(http://www.ramzybaroud.net/) www.ramzybaroud.net

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Publication:The Palestine Chronicle (Mountlake Terrace, WA)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Aug 22, 2019
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