Another Land Grab, Or Much Ado About Nothing?

by Dish Staff

On Sunday, Israel declared nearly 1,000 acres of land near Bethlehem in the West Bank to be “state land”, allowing it to be developed into a new settlement, in what Haaretz describes as a partly punitive measure:

The announcement follows the cabinet’s decision last week to take over the land in response to the June kidnapping and killing of three teenage Jewish boys by Hamas militants in the area. Peace Now, which monitors settlement construction, said it was the largest Israeli appropriation of West Bank land in 30 years. … The appropriated land belongs to five Palestinian villages in the Bethlehem area: Jaba, Surif, Wadi Fukin, Husan and Nahalin. The move is the latest of a series of plans designed to attach the Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem and its environs. Construction of a major settlement, known as Gvaot, at the location has been mooted by Israel since the year 2000. Last year, the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site, and 523 are currently under construction. Ten families now live on the site, which is adjacent to a yeshiva.

Jonathan Tobin defends the decision by pointing out that this particular area would end up going to Israel in any conceivable two-state deal anyway:

Let’s be clear about this. Neither the ownership nor the future of Gush Etzion is up for debate in any peace talks. In every peace plan, whether put forward by Israel’s government or its left-wing opponents, the bloc remains part of Israel, a reality that most sensible Palestinians accept. The legal dispute about whether empty land can be converted to state use for development or settlement or if it is actually the property of neighboring Arab villages is one that will play itself out in Israel’s courts. Given the scrupulous manner with which Israel’s independent judiciary has handled such cases in the past, if the local Arabs can prove their dubious assertions of ownership, the land will be theirs.

But Damon Linker gets why the continual expansion of the settlements rankles:

Israel’s defenders say the country will repatriate hundreds of thousands of settlers and dismantle and remove or turn over to the Palestinians many thousands of homes, apartments, and buildings used by businesses, as well as roads, electricity, plumbing, and other infrastructure. That sounds like a stunningly foolish and wasteful policy. And yet, against all apparent good sense, Israel apparently intends to continue and expand it. No wonder so many Palestinians have despaired of ever reaching a two-state solution with Israel. Regardless of what Israel’s leaders and apologists say — and these days they often sound ambivalent at best — its actions are those of a country that has no intention of ever leaving the West Bank.

To Will Saletan, the move looks creepily Putinesque:

What’s more disturbing, from the standpoint of international norms, is the close resemblance between Israel’s and Russia’s rationalizations. Israelis point out that hundreds of thousands of Jews live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Russians make the same case for protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Israelis say they need the new patch of land to connect their West Bank outposts to Israel proper. Russians use the same logic to justify carving a land bridge to Crimea. Israelis say they captured the West Bank fairly in a long-ago war started by the other side. Russia could say the same about its World War II reclamation of Ukraine. Israel says it’s still willing to negotiate peace; the ongoing settlements just add to its leverage. That’s exactly how Russian officials view their bullying in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Hamas has grown more popular since the Gaza war:

A new poll appears to show that support for Hamas has surged among Palestinians – in spite of (or perhaps due to) a huge Israeli military operation that battered Gaza and left many of the militant group’s fighters dead. It’s a stark shift. If presidential elections were held today with just the two top candidates, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) found that 61 percent of Palestinians would vote for the militant’s leader Ismail Haniyeh over current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. That’s a big increase over a poll conducted in June, which found that 53 percent supported Abbas and 41 percent supported Haniyeh. PCPSR note that it’s the first time that Haniyeh has received a majority in the eight years they have asked the question.