Settlements are an Obstacle to Peace

Image by Semion Lugo.

Almost eight months after the brutal Hamas’ attack on innocent Israeli and Jewish citizens, including women and children, there are still some essential questions that need to be answered. Why did Hamas did it? and in such a cruel, barbaric, unnecessary way? Even more puzzling, why did they do it aware of the terrifying response that their actions would surely unleash by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)? Are they an army of suicidal people, who don’t care about their families or even their own wellbeing and survival?

What Hamas’ actions prove is that the dispossession of Palestinians’ land is still at the center of the Gaza conflict. Granted, Palestinians, or for that matter anybody, would have never imagined that the only democracy in the Middle East would use starvation as a weapon of war, aimed at killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and displacing more than a million of them. Almost eight months after Hamas’ attack, we are witnessing the result of a policy aimed at the total replacement of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers.

On March 22, 2024, Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, announced the appropriation of 10 square kilometers (3.8 square miles) of Palestinian territory on the West Bank. According to Peace Now, a settlement watchdog group, this is the single largest land seizure by the Israeli government since the 1993 Oslo accords. “While there are those in Israel and the world who seek to undermine our right over the Judea and Samaria area and the country in general, we are promoting settlement through hard work and in a strategic manner all over the country,” said Smotrich.

The appropriated land will cut across the West Bank, dividing the north and south, which will make it impossible to have an independent Palestinian state. According to the Israel-based human rights group B’Tselem, more than 40 percent of the West Bank is controlled by Israeli settlers, who have used any means to displace Palestinians from their homes and land. This is what finance minister Smotrich meant in 2023 when he said that the Palestinian town of Huwara should be wiped out.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has documented 561 incidents of Israeli settler violence against the Palestinians. As a result, and only until January 17, eight Palestinians have been killed and 111 injured by Israeli settlers. Settler violence, often backed by the army, has led to the displacement of 1,208 Palestinians, including 586 children, affecting 198 households.

Writing in Al Jazeera, Alice Panepinto, Reader in Law at Queen’s University in Belfast and Triestino Mariniello, Professor of Law at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, de facto annexation of occupied territory is in contravention of the prohibition of territorial conquest through the use of force set out in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. “Despite the clarity of international law on the matter, supported by the 2016 UN Security Council resolution not vetoed by the United States, Israel has provided the political conditions and economic incentives, as well as infrastructural support, for the growth of 279 settlements in the West Bank in which some 700,000 settlers reside,” wrote Panepinto and Mariniello.

“Jewish settlements on the West Bank represent land grabbing, stealing land that belongs to the Palestinians. Land grabbing and peacemaking don’t go together, it’s one or the other, and by constantly expanding settlements, Israel has shown that it prefers land to peace,” stated Avi Shlaim, professor emeritus of international relations at St. Anthony’s College in Oxford, in a conversation with Indian journalist Karan Thapar for the Indian Web magazine The Wire.

It is possible that the IDF will crush Hamas militarily. Regardless, if settlements continue to be built, peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be an illusion. Because the dispossession of Palestinian land and rights, both in the West Bank and Gaza, was carried out under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s watch, he is the one mainly responsible for creating the conditions that make it impossible to reach peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”