On October 27th, the Israeli Higher Planning Council approved the construction of 3,144 new Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. The units are to be built in the West Bank, a region to which Israel claims rightful ownership as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. These settlement plans, however, are illegal under international law and often come at the expense of Palestinian houses. In 2020, the homes of 900 Palestinians were demolished, forcefully displacing their inhabitants, while 12,000 Israeli settlements were approved for construction. Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes in 2021 has seen a 21% increase since the previous year. While this is not a new phenomenon, it is the first sign of expansionism under the Israeli coalition government formed on June 13th, 2021, indicating that current leader Neftali Bennett intends to follow a similar course to that of his Right-wing predecessor, Benyamin Netanyahu, in expanding Israeli settlements into the Occupied Territories.
The latest approval of Israeli housing to be constructed in the West Bank represents not just unlawful expropriation of Palestinian land, but another major disregard for Palestine’s right to exist and its right to self-determination. The UN has adopted a strong resolution in condemnation of Israel’s actions while producing a statement outlining the Israeli settlements as “a presumptive war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [that] should be treated as such by the international community.” Five days after plans for the new Israeli settlements were approved, the Higher Planning Council also approved the construction of 1,303 Palestinian housing units. In a statement by Peace Now, however, it was claimed that “the approval of a handful of plans for the Palestinians is only a fig leaf intended to try to reduce criticism of the government.” The Palestinian housing plans could therefore be seen as Israel’s attempt to mitigate criticism from the international community to prevent foreign intervention and thus continue its plans for expanding settlements into the West Bank.
The Palestinian resistance movement ‘Hamas’ has now called on the Biden administration to re-evaluate its “outrageous pro-Israel stances.” Although the US has declared that it “strongly oppose[s]” and is “deeply concerned” about the expansion of the settlements, little has been done to actively redress the situation and to promote peace in the region. Throughout the history of this conflict, the US has continuously provided Israel with the capacity and means for continued expansion. The most recent example of this support was the signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding” under the Obama administration in 2016 to provide “security assistance” to Israel amounting to $3.8 billion every year, totaling $38 billion starting from 2018 to 2028.
If the US continues to supply Israel with substantial military aid and funding, then it seems doubtful that Israel and Palestine will ever reach an effective peace agreement, since history has demonstrated that the disparity between the two states in terms of economic, political, and military power has led to Israel, the more dominant force, often breaking peace agreements and using its power to further oppress the Palestinian population. The construction of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories frequently results in further distrust, tension, and violence. If a resolution is to be achieved, either Israel must independently enter negotiations with Palestine, recognising its right to exist and freezing construction of Israeli settlements immediately, or the US must use its economic leverage to pressure Israel into such negotiations. Otherwise, the conflict will most likely continue, as it has for decades, funded by the US and driven by Israel’s expansionism.