Biden shields Israel as JNF plans more colonial settlements

A view of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the occupied West Bank, which the JNF aims to expand even further (Mosab Shawer - APA Images)

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada  /  February 15, 2021

Israel’s Jewish National Fund is reportedly planning to purchase privately owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank to expand Jewish-only settlements.

The organization’s leadership approved the proposal on Sunday, which was reported in Israeli media days earlier.

The board of directors is expected to make a final decision after Israel’s general election in March.

The JNF proposal reportedly prioritizes expansion of settlements in the Jordan Valley, occupied Jerusalem, the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the southern West Bank and in the South Hebron Hills area.

According to Israeli media, the group will not be constructing new settlements but expanding already existing ones.

“Expansion” of existing settlements – often far beyond their original boundaries – is a ruse Israel has long used in an effort to minimize international criticism of its colonization of Palestinian land.

Moreover, “land purchases” by Israeli settlement organizations in the West Bank are frequently fraudulent.

While the JNF’s move is being portrayed as a “major policy change” in Israeli media, it is consistent with its historical agenda.

Since its inception in 1901 by Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement to colonize Palestine, the JNF had one fundamental objective: to acquire Palestinian land for the exclusive use of Jews.

Stolen land

The organization helped ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their lands to build Jewish-only colonies.

The JNF purports to own roughly 15 percent of land in present-day Israel. This land is reserved for exclusive use by Jews, even though much of it was stolen from Palestinians.

The JNF often attempts to greenwash its colonization of Palestinian land as environmental stewardship.

It notoriously plants forests over the ruins of Palestinian villages to erase their presence.

Because of its role in ethnic cleansing and racism, activists around the world have been campaigning to have the JNF stripped of its charitable status, which it uses to raise tax-deductible donations.

Israeli journalist Barak Ravid reported that the JNF’s latest move was pushed by the Israeli settlement lobby.

Settler leaders aim to more than double the number of Jewish settlers from roughly 400,000 to one million in Area C – the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank that remains under complete Israeli military rule.

The JNF has always worked to colonize land throughout historic Palestine – both in Israel as it was established in 1948 and the territories it occupied in 1967 – whether directly or through front groups.

In response to an article by Israeli daily Haaretz, the JNF said it has “been operating throughout the years, and still does so, in a transparent manner, in all parts of the Land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria.”

Judea and Samaria is the name Israel uses for the occupied West Bank in order to manufacture a pseudo-biblical claim to Palestinian land.

All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Syria’s Golan Heights, are illegal under international law and are considered a war crime.

In response to the JNF’s plans, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the US administration believes “it is critical to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.”

Biden administration stands by Trump policy

While this may appear more critical than the Trump administration, it represents no substantive change.

When pressed by journalists, Price pointedly refused to call Israel’s settlements illegal – as US administrations had historically done for decades even if they took no action to stop them.

Instead, Price stood by the Trump administration’s November 2019 policy change declaring that the settlements do not violate international law.

The Biden administration appears no less determined than Trump to shield Israel from the consequences of its actions.

After the International Criminal Court ruling earlier this month clearing the way for an investigation of Israeli war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including settlement construction, the Biden administration minced no words about its opposition to such an investigation.

Israel has meanwhile continued demolishing Palestinian homes and structures at an accelerated rate.

In recent months, Israeli forces destroyed and seized structures from the occupied West Bank community of Khirbet Humsa multiple times.

Israel demolished and seized more than 60 structures in the community and forcibly displaced 175 people – more than half of them children – during February, according to UN documentation.

This is all part of Israel’s long-term effort to forcibly change the demographics in the area – ethnic cleansing – and ensure a Jewish majority in preparation for annexation.

Ali Abunimah contributed reporting.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada