The Israeli settlements are built in the occupied Palestinian lands as part of strategy to Judaize various Palestinian regions and facilitate more land seizures. The settlement projects have had highly strategic place in the Israelís calculations since foundation of the regime in 1948. Tel Aviv found efficiency in their role to tighten grip on the occupied Palestinian lands.
The Israelis choose important and resource-rich regions for their housing projects through which they can build homes for the Israeli settlers whose stay there is irreversibly certain. The chosen lands ordinarily have fertile soil and strategic position like network of access roads or closeness to the sea.
The Israeli settlements in West Bank and Gaza Strip can be subjected to ideological and strategic focus. Ideologically, the new Israeli cities are built in the holy lands. Their building has over-six-decade-long history and even before the official foundation of the Israeli regime. The idea for small Jewish villages on the Palestinian soil dates back to the First Zionist Congress, held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland. The ideal provided basis for building settlements in early 20th century by the Jewish organizations that were tasked with paving the way for establishment of a Jewish state. The Jewish towns also had several uses. They in 1970 served as military camps deterring the Arab attacks in the time of war. When the Israeli-Arab wars winded down in 1980s, they restored their residential use. Moreover, they work as obstacles cutting connection between various Palestinian towns and villages. It is for these purposes that the settlement building expands day by day, despite condemnations for its apparent violation of the international law.
What goal is behind settlements?
Theoretically, the settlements serve territorial expansion purpose mainly taking its motivation from the classical geopolitical theories. The towns have such a crucial place for Tel Aviv that it declines to yield to the international and even American pressures to halt the projects. There have been times when the Israeli leaders risked their firm alliance with Washington and allowed the bilateral relations to go chilled, for example during Barack Obama presidency, but they never stopped building fresh places.
International community condemnation
The United Nations and many other international organizations deem the settlements as illegal and hitting the peace efforts made by various sides. The 15-member United Nations Security Council in late December last year overwhelmingly approved an anti-settlement resolution, with 14 members voting for it and only the US abstaining. The resolution urged Tel Aviv to immediately freeze building new settlements in the Palestinian territories. Additionally, the EU in January warned that the Israeli building of thousands of new homes will “seriously undermine” prospects for two-state solution, an initiative proposed to see states of Israel and Palestine co-existing beside each other.
“It is regrettable that Israel is proceeding with this policy, despite the continuous serious international concerns and objections, which have been constantly raised at all levels,” the EU External Action Serviceís spokesperson was quoted as saying.
“Continued settlement expansion… goes directly against long-standing EU policy and the recommendations of the quartet report,” the spokesperson maintained, adding: “A negotiated two-state solution is the only way to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties and to achieve enduring peace.”
Settlement in international lawís eyes
From the viewpoint of the law of war and international law, the Israeli regime is occupier of the pre-1967 Palestinian territories. As an occupying party, Tel Aviv has some duties towards the Palestinian citizens as well as Palestinian cities and territories. But in violation of the international law, the Israelis seized more Palestinian lands and changed their application from agricultural to residential. This makes Tel Aviv a blatant violator of the international conventions and laws, beside its violation of the human rights. For example, the settlement projects breach the terms of the Hague conventions and Fourth Geneva Convention that was approved for the purpose of protection of the civilians in the time of war.
The Hague 1907 Convention in its Article 46 warns that the occupying country cannot seize territories of the occupied country. Furthermore, the Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention notes that no country can settle its own citizens in territories that it occupies or make demographic changes there. The UNSC resolution 446 in 1979 accused the Israeli regime of international law violation by continuing its settlement building, asking Tel Aviv to respect Geneva Convention terms in dealing with the occupied territories. According to the UNSC, West Bank and Gaza Strip are occupied territories and it is forbidden for Israeli regime to establish new Jewish cities there. The Mitchell Report, a report of the Sharm El Sheikh Fact-finding Committee, published in 2000, called for freezing all of Israeli settlement construction activities, including the natural expansion of the settlements.
This makes it easy to conclude that none of Israeli cities built on the occupied Palestinian or other Arab countriesí territories are legal and in many cases mount to war crimes.
Israeli regime’s disregard
Analysts argue the Israeli ignorance of the international resolutions is emboldened by the UNís inefficient system that is easily influenced by the pro-Israeli wealthy lobbying groups and powers. Tel Aviv government has been killing Palestinians and seizing their lands for over 68 years in the shadow of the UN inaction. Such world body inefficiency promises no binding resolutions that put strains on the Israelis in the future for settlement cessation. In fact, the lack of guarantee for implementation of the UN resolutions practically turns them into ceremonial and demonstrative documents.
Another factor encouraging the disrespectful Israeli treatment of the UN resolutions is the support offered by the administration of the US President Donald Trump. The former President Barack Obama administration broke with tradition of vetoing the anti-Israeli resolutions when it abstained from voting in demonstration of conservative support for the Egypt-proposed anti-settlement resolution last December in a bid to put Tel Aviv under duress. But assumption of office by Trump relieved the Israeli stress caused by weakened American backing to Tel Aviv’s expansionist policy. The new administration’s favor was unwavering, with some officials threatening that if the UN proceeds with anti-Israeli moves, Washington will cut financial contribution to the UN.
Challenges to settlement
Despite Tel Aviv struggles to expand settlements, its attempts are struck by a key problem: lack of enough settlers as foreign Jews refrain from migration to the occupied territories. The government announces incentives for new settlers but this does not look enough. The problem worsens if we add the reverse migration that in recent years witnessed a rise.
A report published by the American consulate in 1997 suggested that 25 percent of Israeli homes in West Bank, 56 percent in Gaza Strip, and 28 percent in Golan Heights were empty.
Sallai Meridor, the chairman of the housing and migration at the Jewish Agency, once claimed that even one empty home cannot be found in West Bank housing units. He added that only less than 5 percent of settlements had some empty homes, citing technical problems as reason.
The Peace Now movement report, however, notes that locals have found some Israeli neighborhoods totally empty of residents. This is in addition to the sporadically-found empty homes in various occupied Palestinian regions.