And settlements continue…

In the midst of nationwide protests against the high costs of living in which 300,000 protestors have taken to the streets over the past few days, the Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai has given official approval for the building of 1,600 new settlements in East Jerusalem, while another 2,700 are expected to get approbation in the coming days. The Israeli government insists that these new housing projects in Ramat Shlomo, Givat Hamatos and Pisgat Zeev are necessary in order to address housing shortages in Israel.

Palestinians and Israeli anti-settlement opposition groups have criticised the Israeli’s government intention to use the mass protests which have been taking place across its country in the name of more affordable lives to justify the construction of new settlements as an economic necessity. According to a spokesman of the interior ministry, Roei Lachmanovich, this controversial decision was economic and by no means political (see Guardian, 11/08/2011).

While the figures may suggest that increasing housing projects may indeed allow an increase in accommodation availability and thus stem soaring prices on the housing market, for most Palestinians this most recent approval for new settlements is but another political move by the Israeli government to further enroot its hold in occupied territory. Hence, with the number of Jews settling in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967 now reaching nearly half a million, the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians over a two-states solution has taken another severe, if not fatal, blow.

On an international scale, no concrete US condemnation of the settlement approval was made. In Europe, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton described these new approvals as a “threat to the viability of an agreement” over a possible negotiated outcome and limited herself to expressing her “deep regret” that such decision was taken by Israeli authorities (see Statement by HR Catherine Ashton, 12/08/2011).

Nothing has changed. The economic justifications based on the social demands of the demonstrations of the past few days have given the Israeli government another justification for carrying out its political ambitions, which clearly rules out any chance of reaching a negotiated outcome to the conflict. Meanwhile, the timid reactions from American and European leaders will not be sufficient to upset Israel’s colonialist ambitions and thus to gather once again all parties around the negotiating table.

Andrew Bower