On 1 December 2019, Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett proclaimed his government’s provocative decision to build a new settlement in Hebron. The announcement has purportedly been sparked by the Trump government, coming less than three weeks after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assertion that ‘the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.’
Pompeo’s statement and the ensuing Israeli government actions have been largely condemned. Within Israel, the non-governmental organization Peace Now pronounced the potential of a new settlement in Hebron as ‘ethically inadmissible’, further arguing that it ‘precludes us Israelis from the prospect of a two-state agreement.’ Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Saeb Erekat tweeted that international sanctions were needed to prevent further Israeli settlements. Hebron mayor Taysir Abu Sneineh warned that the decision could ignite further conflict in the region while, according to Mondoweiss, Palestinian activist Imad Abu Shamsiyyeh described the news as ‘devastating.’ Despite their president’s support for Israeli settlements, following Bennett’s announcement the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favour of a non-binding resolution to promote a two-state solution. Denunciation of the settlement is not entirely universal, however, with Israeli settler groups lauding the announcement.
This decision is counterproductive to any attempts for peace in the region. The Israeli government argues that the settlements are merely a reclamation of land previously inhabited by Jews and thus that the settlements are legal and are not inherently violent in nature. There have been Jews in Hebron for centuries, but this argument ignores the fact that there were also Palestinians living in areas which are now considered part of Israel. To attain a two-state solution, there must be a division of the land, and currently Israeli settlements are internationally denounced as encroaching upon Palestinian territories. This prolongs conflict for both Israelis and Palestinians. The ‘public relations disaster,’ as it has been called by Peace Now, caused by the settlements promotes general international distrust, preventing complete peace and security within the Jewish state. This precludes the realization of a true haven for the Jewish people within the majority Muslim Middle East. Furthermore, the settlements stir Palestinian resentment as it results in a military occupation of their homes and in Hebron many Palestinians feel that they are living in a prison. This confinement, in addition to the hostility of Israeli soldiers, also leads to Palestinian violence.
Israeli settlements have been controversial for decades and this is particularly evident in the case of Hebron. It has been denoted as a ‘flashpoint city’ by multiple news sources as it has seen conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over many decades and is the location of the tomb of the Patriarchs, a holy site for both Muslims and Jews. The settlement would effectively double the number of settlers in the area and be located on the site of the Shuhada Street marketplace. Palestinian entry to this former centre of commerce has been largely restricted since 1994, a point of antagonism within the Palestinian community which renders the announcement even more contentious. The new settlement was declared without the support of a full government, as Netanyahu and Bennett’s party has been unable to form a coalition with other Israeli parties.
The only way to attain Middle Eastern peace is through the creation of a two-state solution. Yet, this will only be possible through the abolition of Israeli settlements and an end to Palestinian violence. Israel’s plans to create a new settlement in Hebron acts counter to both of these aims (directly for the former and indirectly for the latter) and thus must be denounced by anyone wishing to attain world peace.