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Where is the surprise?

Jun 11,2019 - Last updated at Jun 11,2019

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s recent statement to The New York Times, that Israel has the right to annex parts, though not all, of the West Bank has, surprisingly, taken many by surprise. As expected, Friedman’s position has been strongly condemned by the Palestinians to the point of considering filing a complaint at the International Criminal Court against him. No doubt Friedman’s declaration is a flagrant violation of international law, which considers the West Bank to be illegally occupied Palestinian territory; it is an aggression on legitimate Palestinian rights given that the land which Friedman grants Israel the right to annex is supposed to be the seat of the envisaged Palestinian state; and also it is a brazen excess of known diplomatic practices and norms.

However, I still do not see much surprise in the US envoy’s declaration. Obviously, Friedman is referring to the illegal Jewish settlements — colonies — that Israel has continuously been building in the West Bank for more than 50 years. According to B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights) the number of Israeli government sanctioned settlements on the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem and the Hebron enclave, had reached 130 by the end of 2017. In addition, there are 110 so-called “settlement outposts”, the settlements that are ostensibly built without the Israeli government’s approval, though with government assistance.

The Arab part of the city of Jerusalem, which was occupied with the rest of the West Bank in June 1967, was united with the Israeli part before annexing the entire city and declaring it as the united eternal capital of Israel. Following that, the municipal area of occupied Jerusalem was vastly expanded to cover many surrounding areas, almost doubling the original size of the city.

This tells that a significant part of the West Bank — occupied Jerusalem and its environs — were already annexed by Israel 50 years ago.

So where is the element of surprise if the steady and the systematic colonisation of the West Bank has been openly, and in full sight of the international community, ongoing for half a century and, given that since then, occupied Jerusalem, which is the heart of the West Bank, had already been enlarged, annexed to Israel and surrounded by settlements?

Because Israel’s colonisation programme was never seriously challenged by the UN, or, indeed, by any of the other concerned parties, apart from routine condemnations and hollow expressions of concern over the viability of the peace process, Israel must have been encouraged to create as many facts on the ground — illegal settlements — as has already been possible benefitting from the world’s acquiescence.

And there have been other encouraging factors. One was the general approval of the principle of land swap: the formula endorsed by all peace process parties, including the Palestinian Authority, that the areas on which big settlements were built would, in future negotiations, be compensated by other lands in other — never specified — areas. This amounted to a licence for continued and unlimited Israeli colonisation of more occupied Palestinian lands.

The other factor was the letter of assurance in April 2004 from US president George W. Bush to then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon which promised Israel that any future settlement of its conflict with the Palestinians would take into consideration the demographic as well as the territorial changes on the ground: clearly indicating that the illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands and the settlers in them would remain in place. This was yet another endorsement, not only of the then existing settlements, but of what was to be built afterwards, and this is what has been relentlessly happening.

In light of the above, Friedman has merely stated the obvious. Not only because he is known to be a committed contributor to the Zionist colonisation programme of Palestine, but also because this has been the undeclared position of his government. Actually, he was sent to Israel on the basis of such credentials. Deal of the century or not, the US administrations all along, not just the current one, were not known to be strictly opposed to Israel’s illegal measures in the Arab and the occupied Palestinian territories. The only difference is that they were not as clear as Washington is now.

Admittedly, previous administrations may have wanted a final settlement to give something to the Palestinians, some territorial leftovers, but it would be overly imaginative to even think that any administration would force the removal of illegal settlements and settlers or ending of the occupation, including in occupied Jerusalem, completely in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions. This can only happen when the rightful owners themselves decide to regain their lost lands and to reclaim their lost rights.

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