BY NAJLA M. SHAHWAN
Israel’s colonial project in Palestine was never about a temporary Israeli presence. In the 54 years since its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, Israel has been moving ahead with its de jure annexations of more integral parts of occupied Palestine.
The international community’s preferred solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the two-state solution, which essentially proposes two sovereign states for two peoples. However, as time passes by, this preferred solution has become increasingly more difficult to implement, as the conditions on the ground are changing dramatically day after day.
The status quo is the current reality and seems likely to remain in place not only for 2022 but for many years ahead, as long as the international community does not take serious steps to resolve this conflict.
The Israeli occupation continues, settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are growing rapidly, settler attacks are spreading vigorously, Palestinian home demolitions and evictions are being increasingly carried out and the Palestinian Authority (PA) remains fragile and with limited power.
The 2 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip remain robbed of their right to freedom of movement and access to electricity and water while their economy is devastated, with 80% of Gaza’s residents depending on humanitarian aid.
Furthermore, Israel’s tactics and policies have become increasingly more repressive, with many of its actions qualifying as apartheid.
“Israel’s apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians” recently topped the list of Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) most-read reports of 2021. In the 213-page report entitled “A Threshold Crossed,” released in April, the HRW has accused Israeli officials of committing the crimes of apartheid, asserting that the government enforces an overarching policy to “maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians.”
The report drew on years of human rights documentation, analysis of Israeli laws, a review of government planning documents and statements by officials.
The HRW compared policies and practices towards nearly 7 million Palestinians in the occupied territories and within Israel with those concerning roughly the same number of Jewish Israelis living in the same areas.
It concluded there was a “present-day reality of a single authority, the Israeli government … methodologically privileging Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians, most severely in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
“Laws, policies and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power and land has long guided government policy,” the report reads.
“In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. These deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”
Prior to the HRW’s report, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem branded Israel an “apartheid” state that “promotes and perpetuates Jewish supremacy between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.”
Echoing the United Nations’ 2017 report concluding that Israel was practicing apartheid, B’Tselem dismissed the popular misconception that it is a democracy within the Green (1949 Armistice) Line.
One other domestic group, Yesh Din, published a legal opinion last summer in which it argued that apartheid was being committed, but limited its findings to the West Bank.
The government policy
For years, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accelerated the long-term trends of inexorable settlement spread, deeper and more permanent occupation of the West Bank and tight control over Gaza, while sidestepping international pressure.
The new Israeli government elected in June is following the same direction but with a softer language, nothing new for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Maintaining the status quo is its policy and an official close to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians and neither will there be one.”
Israel’s iron grip over Palestinians remains as strong as ever and Bennett, who hails from the hard-right nationalist Yemina party, has dug into the most enduring policies designed to expand settlements, perpetuate Israeli control and dismantle the territorial basis for a future Palestinian state.
When meeting with United States President Joe Biden in August, Bennett was clear that his government would continue to allow for existing settlements to develop while promising not to annex any West Bank territory – avoiding any vision for solving the conflict.
Bennett’s government operates on the bases of the understandings that Netanyahu reached with former U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration allowed Israel to continue building in settlements across the West Bank, which skyrocketed during the Trump era, with approved projects beyond the Green Line more than doubling compared to during former U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term.
Looking to the future, any attempts at negotiation have become more complicated than ever before. Expansion, apartheid, political changes and administrative dysfunction have ensured that implementing a two-state will be a major difficulty for even the most unbiased, effective mediators.
The international community must know that the Israeli coalition government’s approach is “shrinking the decades-old conflict” by offering small gestures for improving certain Palestinian living conditions, while in reality what goes on in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is a continuation – in modified form – of the ethnic cleansing by which Israel was created in 1948.
The current situation is clearly unjust and in the long run unsustainable. To break the deadlock over this long-standing conflict, the international community must focus less on political paradigms and more on what is happening on the ground considering the structural power imbalance between the occupying state and the occupied people, and the necessity of challenging the impunity Israel has come to take for granted.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist; recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers