Israel Officially Begins Annexing the West Bank
West Bank Houses

In February 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government transferred civil authorities over the West Bank from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to a new minister within the Ministry of Defense. According to Foreign Affairs, “[t]his administrative change equates to declaring Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, a violation of the United Nations (UN) Charter’s prohibition against territorial conquest. … The transfer shatters the illusion that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is temporary; it further entrenches an unequal, two-tiered legal system for Israelis and Palestinians; and it solidifies permanent control over the West Bank.”

The new minister is Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s minister of finance and leader of the Religious Zionist Party—a party in favor of annexing Area C of the West Bank and, according to columnist David E. Rosenberg, is “driven by Jewish supremacy and anti-Arab racism.” Smotrich’s perspective on Palestinians is clear: he has been quoted saying it was “a mistake” that Israel’s first government did not “finish the job” of expelling all Palestinians in 1948, and in 2017 he published his belief that Jewish nationalism cannot coexist with Palestinian nationalism and therefore the former must squash the latter.

Growing Settlements in the West Bank

Netanyahu’s plan to annex West Bank settlements long pre-dates 2023, however. In 2020, Netanyahu in coordination with U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to carve about 30% of the West Bank to become subject to Israel’s sovereignty. Currently, there are more than half a million Israeli settlers living in the West Bank (not counting an additional 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem).

The Human Rights Council of the UN reported in March 2023 that 700,000 Israeli settlers are “living illegally in the Occupied West Bank,” and that Israel plans to double its settler population in the Occupied Syrian Golan by 2027.

The UN also verified that Israeli settlers had initiated 3,372 violent incidents over the last decade, injuring 1,222 Palestinians. The report noted that Israel neither investigated nor prosecuted these crimes.

 

Why Does the U.N. Consider Settlements Illegal?

The United Nations reiterated in October 2022 that “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is unlawful under international law.” While Israel has been given the right to temporarily occupy Palestinian territory in wartime, Israel’s actions must “not deprive the occupied power of its statehood or sovereignty.”

U.N. Commissioners reviewed Israel’s policies and specified that its settlements indicate Israel’s illegal intent to maintain permanent control of the West Bank. The Commission also found Israel’s exploitation and expropriation of the land and its natural resources, its restrictive planning and zoning policies including demolitions and displacements, and its infliction of both physical and psychological trauma on the occupied constitute an illegal occupation and annexation regime.

This was not the first time the United Nations has called Israel’s actions illegal. In 2016, the Security Council “reaffirmed… that Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.”

West Bank Settlements

Is Israel Trying to Achieve Peace?

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace echoes the United Nation’s concerns. In March 2023, The Carnegie Endowment published a report that details how Israel’s illegal settlements violate Palestinians’ right to sovereignty, threaten civil peace and regional security, jeopardize access to water sources, and block agricultural development.

Even J Street, a Jewish American organization that describes itself as “pro-Israel” has stated that Israel’s ongoing “occupation of Palestinian territory is a major obstacle to the achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace, is a systemic injustice violating the rights of the Palestinian people and poses a severe threat to Israel’s long-term future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.”

Why does Israel continue to disregard international law? Israel Policy Forum, a Jewish American organization offers two goals of Israel’s settlement enterprise:

  1. Israel initially allowed and encouraged the establishment Jewish settlements in the West Bank “to ensure that the territory’s political future would be consistent with the country’s perceived security needs. A civilian settler population could also act as the first line of defense against an invasion.”
  2. Over time, the ideology that Jews should settle the entire Land of Israel drove the enterprise. These groups selected territories “with a large Palestinian population in order to secure Jewish dominance over the territory, prevent a Palestinian state, and secure the entire West Bank for Israel.”

In order words, “disrupt[ing] the contiguity of Palestinian communities in the West Bank” delineates a favorable future border for Israel. Large settlements also ensure that “[annexation] would not impact the demographic character of the State of Israel.”

 

Palestinian Life in Occupied West Bank Settlements

Life for Palestinians in these rural communities has become increasingly difficult. Settlements are acquired through land grabs and home and business demolitions displace Palestinian families. Resources are also expropriated and redistributed unequally.

Israel controls access to water in the Occupied Territories and has chosen to direct most of the water to Jewish settlements. This inequitable system has left 180,000-200,000 Palestinians without access to running water—and even those with access often find their taps run dry. Israeli military road closures such as checkpoints and settler-only roads have also prevented Palestinians from moving freely around the West Bank. These blocks keep families apart and have often prevented Palestinians in crisis from accessing essential services such as hospitals.

 

To learn more about the Israel-Palestine conflict and how you can get involved, visit The Promised Land Museum and consider hosting an exhibit to promote peace.

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