Israel to massively expand settlements after UAE normalization
By Tamar Nassar
9 october 2020
Israel is moving ahead with thousands of new settlement units in the occupied West Bank.
This represents a dramatic expansion of Israel’s settler-colonial efforts: The vast majority of the housing units are planned in “isolated” settlements outside the large blocs already eyed for Israeli annexation under President Donald Trump’s so-called “Peace to Prosperity” plan.
About 350 units will be added to each of the Beit El settlement, north of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, the Geva Binyamin settlement, northeast of occupied East Jerusalem, and the Nili settlement, in the central West Bank.
Almost 1,000 new housing units are set to be approved in the so-called Har Gilo settlement, sandwiched between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Israel is also advancing plans for almost 700 new housing units in Eli settlement in the central West Bank.
Construction has already started and some units are being approved retroactively.
Another 140 housing units will added in Shiloh, a settlement between the Palestinian villages of Jalud and Quryut, which have filed legal challenges to the construction.
The Civil Administration – the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation – is expected to give the final green light for 2,500 units on Monday and initial approvals for thousands more.
All of Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law and settlement construction in occupied territory is a war crime.
However, Israel’s expansion of settlements beyond the so-called blocs signals a new confidence that it will face no consequences whatsoever for its actions.
UAE gives Israel a gift
This comes as the lead negotiators of the Abraham Accords – the normalization deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel – continue to claim they achieved a freeze on Israel’s plans to formally annex large swaths of the West Bank in exchange for the agreement.
In reality, it was the United States that put Israel’s annexation plans on ice months before the UAE-Israel accord was announced in August.
Since the normalization deal was announced, Israeli leaders have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to annexation.
In a virtual panel between Emirati ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba and his friend Israel lobby billionaire mega-donor Haim Saban, the pair discussed behind-the-scenes preparations for the UAE-Israel normalization deal.
The panel was hosted late last month by the publication Jewish Insider and moderated by former Trump administration official Dina Powell McCormick.
Al Otaiba said the Emirati government tasked him with writing an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper in June warning that Israeli annexation of West Bank land would set back efforts to normalize ties.
Al Otaiba explained that annexation was going to be “dangerous to the region” and “dangerous for Israel,” adding that “more importantly,” it would be difficult for the “Americans to defend in our part of the world.”
He made no mention of how Palestinians would factor in, despite it being their land that was the subject of those negotiations.
“The idea came from Abu Dhabi. It was passed to me,” he said.
Al Otaiba then consulted with Saban on “where it should be placed, when it should be placed and the most important piece of advice on this was: You have to do it in Hebrew.”
The article, published in Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth, was however less of a warning to Israel and more of a love letter: It was laced with enticements and offers to Israel of further normalization – and on those the UAE delivered.
Now Al Otaiba is admitting that this was indeed the intent. He said the idea was, “We’ll trade you something much better than annexation.”
In other words, instead of making Israel face repercussions for its already extensive, decades-long theft and colonization of occupied Palestinian land, Israel would be rewarded for not compounding those ongoing crimes with the crime of annexation.
The UAE decided to give Israel a gift for which, as Saban put it, Israelis would “give their right arm.”
Al Otaiba insisted that the Abraham Accords “preserve the viability and the potential for a two-state solution that otherwise would have been dead.”
In reality, the two-state solution has long been dead.
Al Otaiba even admitted that the UAE only intended to “put time on the clock,” regardless of how “that time is ultimately used.”
Israel’s forcible displacement of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and expansion of Jewish-only colonies have never ceased.
Annexation, whether Israel does it now or later, is only a formal rubber stamp for decades of demolitions, displacement and settlement construction.
Indeed, as the latest announcements demonstrate, Israel is intensifying its settlement expansion – in spite of the UAE’s gift.
Halts are temporary
Meanwhile, following legal action from advocacy group Adalah over demolitions of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem, Israel reportedly temporarily halted demolitions “nationwide.”
Adalah sent another letter to the Civil Administration on 5 October urging it to cease demolitions and allow construction in the rest of the West Bank – not just in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed.
Since the beginning of the year, Israel has made more than 700 Palestinians homeless, the vast majority during the pandemic.
But the halt on demolitions in Jerusalem, like the one on annexation, remains only a temporary reprieve – if Israel even abides by it.