By Ramzy Baroud / CounterPunch
The Israeli government is at it again, actively discussing the construction of thousands of illegal settlement units as part of a massive settlement expansion scheme known as E1.
Though Israeli construction in the East Jerusalem area has supposedly been halted under international pressure, the Israeli government has found ways to keep the plan alive.
But why does Washington, Israel’s main defender and benefactor, oppose, at least verbally, the construction in E1, while turning a blind eye to illegal construction throughout the West Bank?
The answer lies in the fact that E1 will further expand the Jerusalem municipal boundaries, minimize any Palestinian demographic presence in the city (from the current 42 percent to about 20 percent), and prejudice any political solution that includes East Jerusalem.
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East Jerusalem is a Palestinian city, occupied by Israel during the June 1967 war. It is recognized by the United Nations and international law as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Israel should have neither legal rights nor jurisdiction there.
Washington, which rarely cares about the rights of Palestinians, is concerned that, without East Jerusalem as part of the political equation, any discussion of a ‘two-state solution’ will become forever obsolete.
In other words, the US is more worried about the political, not territorial consequences of the Israeli decision. Indeed, the US’ entire political program in Palestine and Israel is situated within the two-state solution template. Without it, Washington’s role would cease to serve any purpose.
This is precisely why US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Israeli settlements during his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on June 5.
Though he covered the habitual US commitment to Israel’s security, describing it as “non-negotiable” and “ironclad”, he also warned against “any move toward annexation of the West Bank … disruption of the historic status quo at holy sites (and) the continuing demolitions of homes.”
These steps, and more, will “damage prospects for two states”, the cornerstone of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Israel, on the other hand, is neither interested in a two-state, one-state or any ‘solution’ to its military occupation and apartheid in Palestine. Instead, Tel Aviv is working towards a specific end, a formula of permanent domination, one that would satisfy its quest for ‘security’, demographic superiority and ‘defensible’ borders.
It matters little that Israel’s vision for its own border lines is largely inconsistent with international law. All that matters to the current, in fact, all Israeli governments, are the ‘national interests’ of the country’s Jewish population, whose future has been linked to the crushing of political aspirations and civil rights of the country’s native Arab, Palestinian inhabitants.
Jerusalem’s particular significance stems from two factors: one, its historical, spiritual, economic and administrative centrality to all Palestinians and, two, the fact that it has been the Holy Grail of Israel’s settler colonialism in Palestine for the last 75 years.
A quick look at the map of Occupied East Jerusalem is enough to explain Israel’s ultimate motive in the Palestinian city: Maximum land with an absolute Jewish majority.
For this to take place, much work has to be done, namely ensuring the territorial continuity between the massive illegal Jewish settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem.
Israel’s motives are not a secret. A long report by the Zionist Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs champions and illustrates Tel Aviv’s objectives in detail. The report warns against allowing “security and urban discontinuity between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, or the reversion of Jerusalem to a border-town status … that would preclude the city’s eastward development.”
The reference to ‘eastward development’ is particularly dangerous, as many illegal Jewish settlements have purposely been planted in various parts of the West Bank, all the way to the Jordan Valley for the sole purpose of linking them all up, thus dividing the West Bank into two main regions, south and north.
Considering the current administration and ‘security’ divisions of the Occupied West Bank, a major territorial division will deny Palestinians any sense of physical continuity, let alone statehood. In other words, apartheid will become permanent and, from Israel’s perspective, also sustainable.
As for the westward expansion, connecting Ma’ale Adumim to the so-called “metropolitan Jerusalem” through construction in E1 will help Israel resolve a fundamental component of its expansionist strategy. According to the Zionist Jerusalem Center, such a merger will “incorporate both settlement and security as two vital, complementary components of Israel’s national interest.”
And, wherever there is Israeli construction in Occupied Palestine, there is always the destruction of Palestinian properties and confiscation of land.
According to the European Union Office in Palestine, in 2022, 28,208 illegal settlement units “were advanced” in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, compared to 22,030 in 2021. A higher number is expected in 2023.
As for Palestinian home demolition, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) paints a grim picture: in the first quarter of 2023 alone, 290 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were demolished or seized. This represents an increase of 46 percent, compared to the same period of the previous year.
East Jerusalem has had a major share of this destruction, specifically 95 homes and other structures between January 1 and March 28, according to the World Council of Churches. The outcome has been the displacement of 149 Palestinians. Among them, 88 children have been rendered homeless.
The price of Israel’s major plans in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank is not just humanitarian. It is essentially political, aimed at cutting off Palestinian communities from one another, isolating Jerusalem completely, and ensuring a Jewish demographic majority for generations to come.
Though Secretary Blinken tries to emphasize the danger of such actions to the two-state solution, the real danger lies in the fact that such measures threaten the very fabric of Palestinian society and the political future of the Palestinian people.
Israel’s quest to reactivate its E1 plan requires not just mere condemnation, but tangible and decisive action, especially as Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government is more unhinged than ever before.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU)