By Hagit Ofran
Published in Haaretz, May 30, 2023
Israel’s far-right government ministers are no longer hiding their power-drunk dreams of wildly proliferating the settler population and dispossessing yet more Palestinians. If their intentions are now so explicit, our fight back against this injustice should be just as resolute.
There are three recent developments related to Israel’s West Bank settlements that at first glance seem unconnected, but are actually all deeply intertwined. They are part of the bigger picture of settler power reestablishing itself with unprecedented muscle in this Israel’s government.
First, it was revealed last week that Bezalel Smotrich the far-right Finance Minister, who is also de-facto Minister of Settlements requested government ministries to prepare plans and budgets to double the number of settlers living in the West Bank. This would mean seeing their numbers soar from half a million to one million people.
Those familiar with the plans stored away in the files of the Ministry of Housing and the Civil Administration, which oversees the West Bank, already know that there are existing plans to establish tens of thousands of housing units in the settlements of Givat Eitam, E1, Atarot, Gva’ot, Nahliel, Emanuel, Givat Zeev and more.
I remember, when I started working at the Settlement Watch Project for Peace Now 18 years ago, that if we wanted to know what was planned for a particular settlement, we had to go to the local council and request to see the plan. The existence of the planning meetings would be discovered, if at all, only weeks after they took place, hidden in small ads in newspapers.
To find out if the land on which a settlement was built was privately owned by Palestinians, we needed leaks from sources within the Civil Administration.
It seems the government now feels no immediate threat to the fate of the settlements, so they have nothing left to hide.
The opposition parties in Israel avoid dealing with the occupation. In the United States, until fairly recently, there was a president openly supportive of settlements. The current administration as well as other countries and international organizations only lip service condemning the settlements but do not exact any price from Israel for its policy.
Smotrich and his colleagues feel invulnerable. So, reveling in this new level of power and possibility they seek to remove the few remaining legal obstacles in their path to implementing their apartheid vision through the judicial revolution the government is conveniently leading.
But it is not only about the million settlers and it’s not about the numbers in the first place. For many good people in Israel and abroad, even 500,000 settlers were enough to despair of the possibility to undo it and of a two states reality.
Additionally, it fails to address the tens of thousands of Palestinians whose homes are under imminent threat of demolition and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian landowners who have had their lands seized for the benefit of settlements.
It should be a struggle that includes mobilizing the clear and outraged voice of the world Jewish community. We also need the international community to take genuine action tied to real consequences for Israel if it does not change course.