The passage of legislation by Israel that would legalise nearly 4,000 Jewish settler homes on private Palestinian lands in the West Bank flies in the face of international law and norms. That the vote comes weeks after the UN Security Council demanded that Israel stop all settlement activity in the Occupied Territories, and an international conference attended by more than 70 countries urged both sides in the conflict to resume talks, shows Israel’s disregard for international opinion and institutions. The legislation allows the Israeli government to expropriate private Palestinian land if the land-owners are unknown. If known, they will be compensated in cash or kind. However, the legislation, which for the first time since the annexation of East Jerusalem seeks to extend Israeli law to the West Bank, can be overturned by the judiciary.
Israel’s Attorney-General has said he wouldn’t defend the bill in the high court as it is “unconstitutional and violates international law”. However, this is unlikely to stop the ideology-driven settler movement and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from taking more Palestinian land. Since Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem five decades ago, about 140 settlements have been built in Palestinian territories that house more than 600,000 Jews. Despite frequent international criticism, successive governments have thrown their weight behind the settlement lobby. Mr. Netanyahu, who is dependent on the right-wing coalition parties for his government’s survival, has played along. Last month, his government approved plans for 2,500 new settler homes in the West Bank.
Israel still says it is committed to the two-state solution. But how will the two-state solution stay relevant if it continues to grab Palestinian land where an independent Palestinian state is supposed to come up? The Netanyahu government has shown no particular interest in resuming negotiations, while its right-wing allies are boasting of expanding Israeli sovereignty to “Judea and Samaria”, the biblical names for the West Bank. And now Israeli authorities feel emboldened by the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President. He has promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a disputed city, slammed the Obama administration for not using its veto powers in the UNSC over the settlement resolution in December 2016, and even praised the controversial security wall Israel has built through Palestinian lands. Mr. Netanyahu, facing pressure from coalition partners, may be hoping to continue the status quo of occupation, provided Mr. Trump offers the protection to Tel Aviv that he promised during the campaign. That would make peace yet more distant in West Asia.