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Israeli Settlements in the West Bank: Why Palestine is More Vulnerable Than Ever

In May of this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his plan to formally annex Israeli settlements located in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This behavior is unsurprising given that the Palestinians have effectively been under the control of Israel for decades, but the decision to formally annex Israeli settlements is both a violation of international law and a direct threat to the autonomy and livelihood of Palestinians. Despite condemnation from Egypt, Jordan, Germany, and France, Israel plans to go through with the annexation within the coming months.

The United States boasts of its status as a liberal democracy that is very influential on the international scale, yet the Trump administration has helped lead the way for dividing the territory and has failed to accurately deem the action illegal. It is worth mentioning that the U.S. has a long-standing allyship with Israel. Trump’s support of the annexation is disappointing but by no means a surprising move. With the U.S. behind the annexation, there is little hope that Palestinians will be able to uphold their right to land, putting Israeli-Palestinian relations at a crucial turning point. Here is why the U.S. peace plan to aid Israel’s annexation of Palestine is anything but peaceful.

The Israel-Palestine conflict dates back centuries, but the bottom line is that Palestinians and Israelis disagree about who has the historical right to the land and how it should be controlled. The Jewish state of Israel believes that they have a right to reclaim their Holy Land, but Palestinians argue that they have a right to territory that had been under Arab rule for centuries. Currently, the area of the West Bank is under the control of Palestinian authorities but occupied by Israeli troops that place restrictions on Palestinians.

The inability to provide a territorial compromise between Israel and Palestine demonstrates a long history of commitment problems within the conflict. As James Fearon explains in “Rationalist Explanations of War,” “rationally led states may be unable to arrange a settlement that both would prefer to war due to commitment problems, situations in which mutually preferable bargains are unattainable because one or more states would have an incentive to renege on the terms.” There have been several attempts at peace resolutions and international involvement, yet neither state can agree to give up on any land that they believe is rightfully theirs. There are several factors that exacerbate this issue, one of which being the involvement of extremist groups that continue to inhibit conflict resolution in this case. Hamas, an extremist faction of the Palestinian government that advocates for the liberation of Palestine, has gained substantial support throughout the conflict and often displays violence toward those who cooperate with the Israeli government. The inability to compromise only deepens cleavages and tends to spoil potential peace deals. This all-or-nothing approach has led to a long and violent conflict.

In an effort to assert power over the Palestinians, Israel has formed over 130 Israeli settlements along the West Bank that effectively cut off Palestinians from their access to their own land. Currently, there are 11,000 Palestinians who are restricted from entering Israeli land that divides up Palestinian territory. Unable to pass through the border, they cannot access employment and resources that exist east of the settlements. Despite annexation being proposed under the deceptive claim of a simple security measure, the fact that 85% of the settlements fall within the West Bank as opposed to the Green Line that divides Israel and Palestinian territory verifies that the placement of settlements is exceptionally strategic to favor Israeli interests.

Not only does it seem that the Israeli government has ulterior motives, their annexation simply violates international law. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, states “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Furthermore, the International Criminal Court created a statute in 1998 that deemed the behavior a war crime within international law.

Despite ratifying the very law that makes this annexation illegal, the United States is playing a key role in Netanyahu’s plan. Unlike some of its allies, the U.S. has shown support for annexation. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, stated that “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” This is a clear case in which the United States has openly supported and involved itself in a policy that directly opposes that of international law. What many people do not know is that Friedman has a vested interest in the promotion of the Israeli regime. Along with being the ambassador to Israel, Friedman serves as the president of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions, which raises about $2 million in tax-deductible donations every year from settlement supporters in the U.S. There is no surprise that Friedman would capitalize on his position of ambassador to promote these personal beliefs, despite international outrage.

In taking this position, the United States is encouraging massive human rights violations. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there have been 113,668 Palestinian civilians injured and 5,581 civilian fatalities within occupied Palestinian territory and Israel since 2008. Israel has demonstrated its capacity for violence on several occasions and the formal annexation of the Israeli settlements only adds fuel to the fire of violence that already exists in occupied Palestine.

The question we need to consider is what exactly will happen to the Palestinians if this annexation takes place. One possibility is that Israel grants Palestinians full Israeli citizenship, which is risky in terms of upholding Israel as a Jewish state. If Palestinians become citizens, the Israeli government runs the risk of being outnumbered and outvoted by Muslim Palestinians. Considering Israel’s efforts to establish its place as a Jewish state and Holy Land, it seems unlikely that this will be the result of the annexation. The alternative, however, indicates a grim future for Palestinians, who could be ultimately confined to small areas of land with few rights.

With the growing fortitude of Netanyahu’s anti-Palestine efforts, the livelihood of the Palestinian population becomes complex and unknown. There is no clear outcome to annexation other than the probable repression of Palestinian human rights. The U.S. and its role in the Israel and Palestine conflict is anything but tangential to the outcome of the annexation plans. While there are no obvious ways to resolve this conflict otherwise, the U.S. peace plan and cooperation with Netanyahu’s administration is a step in the wrong direction.