Currently, around 500,000 Jews reside illegally in over 120 West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements as well as dozens of outposts. Their numbers grow daily despite occasional pledges to curtail or slow them, the latest last November when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a 10 month freeze, calling it a move to "help launch meaningful negotiations to reach a historic peace agreement that would finally end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians."
Never mind Israel's history of past peace process futility because all previous efforts were more pretense than real, or as some Palestinians say - How can they negotiate in good faith without a willing partner? They've never had one and don't in Netanyahu, an extremist hard-right zealot.
The same holds for a settlement freeze, just rhetoric with no substance, especially given Israel's plan to make all Jerusalem a Jewish city, according to Netanyahu. During a May 22, 2009 Jerusalem Day ceremony (commemorating the city's 1967 reunification), he declared:
"United Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided."
For East Jerusalem Palestinians, it means removing them one settlement expansion and home demolition at a time.
So much for the peace process and freeze, evidenced by a February 26 Haaretz report saying Israel "plans to build another 600 homes in East Jerusalem" on Occupied Palestinian land.
Then on March 10, Israel's Interior Ministry approved 1,600 in Ramat Shlomo, "an ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood" during vice president Joe Biden's visit to restart no-peace peace talks, the same as past stillborn efforts.
A Haaretz March 11 report goes further, saying planning officials confirm that:
"Some 50,000 new housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line are in various stages of planning and approval." Plans for 20,000 apartments "are in advanced stages of approval and implementation, while plans for the remainder have yet to be submitted to the planning committees."
According to Ir Amin, activists for a stable and equitable Jerusalem, construction this vast "will move Israel beyond the point of no return" and render conflict resolution impossible.
This highlights Netanyahu's earlier disingenuous announcement that:
"a policy of restraint regarding settlements (will) include a suspension of new permits and new construction in Judea and Samaria for a period of ten months (as well as) a promise to enable normal life to continue for three hundred thousand Israeli citizens, our brothers and sisters, who live in Judea and Samaria (what Jews call the West Bank)."
Yet unlimited East Jerusalem expansions continue where 200,000 Jews already live on expropriated Palestinian land. In addition, thousands of West Bank housing units and other construction continue or are planned as Netanyahu explained last November saying:
"When the suspension ends (or sooner), my government will revert to the policies of previous governments in relation to construction," meaning expropriating Palestinian land is policy, and no plans will change it.
He then added:
-- housing already underway will continue;
-- "we will continue to build synagogues, schools, kindergartens and public buildings essential for normal (settlement) life; (and)
-- We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital," referring to East and West Jerusalem, even though East is Occupied Territory.
On February 17, Haaretz' chief political columnist Akiva Eldar reacted, saying "you'd have to be blind, an idiot, or a member of the Yesha Council of settlements to use the term 'freeze' to describe the real estate situation in Judea and Samaria." Among other projects, a new Ariel industrial zone continues, Eldar adding with tongue in cheek:
"It seems that the freeze (in) new industrial zones in national priority zones....in the heart of the West Bank is not at the top of the (government's) list of priorities."
National Priority Areas (NPAs)
On December 13, 2009, the Netanyahu government approved Decision No. 1060, titled, "Defining Towns and Areas with National Priority," classifying Israeli and West Bank areas as NPAs. In Israel, 40% of their residents are Arab Israelis, sure to lose out because officials may decide where and in what amounts funding will be directed. As a result, Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, contested the move before Israel's High Court of Justice (HCJ). More on that below.
Israel's Earlier NPA Definition
On February 15, 1998, the earlier Netanyahu government approved Decision No. 3292, classifying 553 "A" and "B" towns and villages as NPAs, only four being Arab ones, a decision Adalah also challenged for the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education for discriminating against non-Jews.
On February 27, 2006, the HCJ agreed, saying this law can't give the government or its officials sweeping authority to distribute benefits and budget allocations as it wishes. It allowed one year for implementation.
It's still waiting, and in June 2009, the Knesset passed the NPA Law as a provision of the Economic Arrangements Law, contradicting the HCJ's High Follow-Up ruling.
Its language is vague. It doesn't define an NPA or list qualifying towns and villages, what funding they'll get, or over what period of time. It also lets officials distribute benefits as they wish, based on whatever criteria they decide. It thus defies the HCJ by granting the government broad discretionary powers, and it extends past government decisions until January 13, 2012, six years after the Court's ruling.
Despite strong Knesset opposition, the law passed. According to attorney Ben Yitzhak, counsel to the Knesset's Finance Committee:
"The legislative proposal, as presently submitted here, does not include any mechanism of oversight or control by the Knesset....The fundamental rule, which the Supreme Court has also reiterated, is that legislation must anchor the general policy and the guiding criteria in the foundation of the action and legislative objective. (In) this sense, (it) constitutes a deviation from these models."
Other MKs called it in contempt of the HCJ ruling. It's supposed to have the final say, but not in Israel. Its governments have a history of ignoring or contravening Court rulings, doing as they please, with no recriminations from its highest judicial body that walks loudly but carries a small stick, and at times none at all.
Based on the new NPA law, the government classified NPAs by four criteria:
-- periphery areas and socio-economic classifications;
-- the security threat level;
-- their distance from an international border; and
-- whether a community was established in the past five years.
Ones being funding weren't specified, only regions, and officials got sweeping allocation authority for the following purposes:
-- elementary, secondary and higher education;
-- housing and urban development;
-- engineering infrastructure; and
-- culture and sport.
In addition, NPA designation may exclude towns and villages in them and permits broad distribution discretion. So much that even government officials expressed concern, saying: "such considerations and awarding of benefits could result in a differentiation between towns or villages in the same district, or a differentiation within a town or village."
The decision further says that, because of budget constraints, funds will be allocated to at most 25% of the state's population within NPAs. It also lets officials distribute some benefits to one town but not another, based on their say alone, adding to the discriminatory bias that will totally exclude Arab areas and favor higher socio-economic Jewish ones over others.
As in America, the rich take care of their own, letting others take the hindmost, even though doing so contradicts the NPA's purpose - to help poorer areas, including Arab ones, not self-sufficient well-off communities.
The NPA law also includes West Bank settlements under the "level of security threat" criterion - no matter that it's illegal under international law, Fourth Geneva's Article 49 stating:
"The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."
Since 1967, Israel did it half a million times and counting.
In addition, NPA settlements will be funded for whatever purposes official decide. Yet they're defined at the district and regional level. In other words, for funding purposes, a distinction is made between a designated area and individual towns and villages in it.
Adalah will contest the law, believing the government failed to implement the HCJ's ruling in the High Follow-Up Committee Case. The 2009 NPA Law contravenes it by its vague language and sweeping classification discretion. Officials may decide what areas qualify, amounts they'll get, for what purposes, and for how long.
The law also permits the previous government's January 2012 extension that the HCJ ruled discriminatory against Arab areas and promotes aggressive settlement development and expansion. It's arbitrary and illegal, harms Israeli Arabs and West Bank Palestinians, and four years after the Court's ruling, it's still impossible to compile a list of qualifying NPAs because of the law's vagueness.
Israeli National Heritage Sites
All countries have them, including Israel. For example, in 2001, the ancient Masada fortress was designated, and in 2003 Tel Aviv's White City, a collection of over 4,000 Bauhaus or international style buildings built since the 1930s by German Jewish architects, emigrating to escape the Nazis.
Establishing them in Israel is one thing, in Occupied Palestine another, and that's the problem.
Yet on February 23, Netanyahu added Hebron's Cave of the Patriachs and Bethlehem's Rachel's Tomb, saying the right-wing religious Shas party persuaded him, no matter they're in Occupied Palestine, not Israel, and thus illegal under international law.
MKs reacted to the decision. The left of center Meretz party chairman Haim Oron said: "This is an attempt to blur the lines between the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories. Just a little pressure from the right and Netanyahu" caves. "This decision casts the prime minister's....declaration (for) two states for two peoples in a ridiculous light."
For MK Talab al-Sana of United Arab List-Ta'al: "The government's decision attests to its cynical criteria that would include places holy to Muslims and Christians," besides being a thinly veiled way to expropriate more Palestinian land in defiance of international law.
Israeli extremist elements praised the decision as did Knesset hard-liners.
A Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) press release condemned it, saying it "was taken on the eve of the 16th anniversary of the mass killing of 29 Palestinian worshippers in the Ibrahimi Mosque by an Israeli settler, Baroch Goldstein, on 25 February 1994."
It also violated international law, including:
-- the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict defining it as "movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people;"
-- its Article 2 calling for "the protection of cultural property (to include) the safeguarding of and respect for such property;" and
-- Article 9 of its Second Protocol prohibiting "any illicit export, other removal or transfer of ownership of cultural property."
-- Fourth Geneva calls "extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly," a grave Convention breach.
The 1999 review of the 1954 Hague Convention and Second Protocol updates "military necessity" to include the "proportionality" prohibition against disproportionate, indiscriminate force likely to cause damage to or loss of lives and objects.
And the 2004 Cairo Declaration on the Protection of Cultural Property affirmed the 1954 Hague Convention principle that "damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all humankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world."
Israel is criminally liable for repeatedly violating fundamental international laws it's sworn to uphold but has yet to be held accountable. For certain, however, what can't go on forever, won't, but it's up to grassroots pressure to assure it.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.