Words without action expose the West’s role in Israel’s illegal settlement expansion

Elderly Palestinian demonstrators chants slogans in front of Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against Israeli land confiscation in Al-Khalil-Hebron (Hazem Bader - AFP)

Ramzy Baroud

Middle East Monitor  /  November 2, 2021

The international uproar in response to Israel’s approval of a massive expansion of its illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian West Bank may give the impression that such a reaction could, in theory, force Israel to abandon its plans. It won’t because the “concerns”, “regrets” and “disappointment” — and even outright condemnation — are mere words that will not be followed by meaningful action. This exposes the West’s role in Israel’s illegal settlement building and expansion.

True, the international community has a political, and even legal, frame of reference regarding its position on the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Unfortunately, however, it has no genuine political mandate, or the inclination to act individually or collectively, to bring this occupation to an end.

This is precisely why the announcement on 27 October that Israel has given “final approval” for the building of 1,800 housing units and initial approval for another 1,344 will not be reversed anytime soon. We need to keep in mind that this decision came only two days after another announcement that the Israeli government had advanced construction tenders for 1,355 housing units in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has rarely if ever, reversed such decisions since its establishment on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. Moreover, since Israel’s occupation of Palestinian East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip in 1967, its settler-colonial project has expanded, unhindered, constantly. The intervening 54 years should have been enough for the international community to realise that Israel has no intention whatsoever of ending its military occupation of its own volition, to respect international law, and to cease construction of its illegal settlements.

Yet, despite this obvious fact, the international community continues to issue statements — moderate in their language at times, even angry occasionally — but never takes a single action to sanction Israel. A glance at the US government’s reaction to the latest news of settlement expansion tells us a lot about Washington’s lack of concern about Israel’s total disregard for international law, peace, and security in the Middle East. “We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price, adding that the Israeli decision is “completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tension and ensure calm.”

Since when has Israel been concerned about “lowering tensions” and “ensuring calm”? If these were truly important US expectations, why does Washington keep channeling billions of dollars a year in military aid to the occupation state, knowing full well that such armaments will be used to maintain the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine and other Arab lands?

If, for the sake of argument, we assume that Washington is finally shifting its policy towards Israel and Palestine, how does it intend to pressure the occupier to stop settlement construction? Ned Price has the answer: The Biden Administration will “raise our views on this issue directly with senior Israeli officials in our private discussions,” he said on 26 October. “Raise our views”, rather than demand accountability, threaten sanctions or, God forbid, withhold funds.

While it is true that the US government is Israel’s main western benefactor, Washington is not the only hypocritical administration in this regard. The Europeans are no different, despite their slightly stronger statements. “Settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between the parties,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on 29 October.

The statement mirrors the exact sentiments and language of numerous others issued in the past, those that “strongly reject” the Israeli action, and “urge” the Israeli government to “revoke” its recent decisions for the sake of “sustainable peace”, and so on. The preparation of these statements must be the easiest of all jobs at the EU, as it is largely a matter of “cut and paste”.

Yet again, though, when it comes to action, Brussels, like Washington, refrains from taking any. Worse still, these entities often bankroll the very actions against which they are protesting, while insisting that they are standing at the exact same distance between Israelis and Palestinians, assigning themselves such roles as “honest brokers”, “peace mediators” and the like.

We should not be in the least surprised by Israel’s recent announcement. In fact, we should expect more settlement expansion and even the construction of new settlements, because that is what colonial Israel was established for, and is what the apartheid state does best.

“Israel promoted plans for more than 30,000 settler homes in the West Bank during the four years [Donald Trump] was in power,” the BBC reported an Israeli group, Peace Now, as saying in its recent findings. Given that Israel has, within just a few days, announced its intentions to build, or start bids for, nearly 4,500 settlement units, if the Israeli government under former settler leader Naftali Bennett continues apace with illegal housing construction, it could potentially match — and even overtake — the expansion that took place during the terrible years of the Trump era. With no accountability, this catastrophic political paradigm will remain in place, irrespective of who governs Israel and who is in the White House.

Israel is doing what any colonial power does in expanding at the expense of the native population. The onus is not on colonial powers to behave themselves, but on the rest of the world to hold them accountable. This was true in the case of the South African Apartheid and numerous other examples across the Global South. It is equally true in the case of Israeli Apartheid in Palestine.

The reality is that no matter how many more statements are issued by western governments, they will not end the Israeli occupation, or even stop the Israeli military bulldozers as they uproot Palestinian trees, destroy Palestinian homes and build yet more illegal colonies. The West has massive military, political and economic leverage over Israel, so expecting such leverage to be used to enforce international law is not unreasonable.

Israel and its lobbyists, though, have an inexplicable grip on the corridors of power in Western capitals which means that words will never be backed up by actions. Hence, the West is most certainly not an “honest broker” for peace; it is complicit in Israel’s military occupation and apartheid.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle; his latest book is ‘These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons’ (Clarity Press)