Emboldened by Trump, Israel Moves to 'Legalize' West Bank Settlements

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Emboldened by Trump, Israel Moves to 'Legalize' West Bank Settlements

"Trump's spirit certainly hovers over this law," said one Israeli journalist

A commentator called Vice President-elect Mike Pence, seen here with running-mate Donald Trump, one of the most pro-Israel policy-makers in America. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis / AFP/Getty Images)

On the morning after Donald Trump's election victory, Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett declared: "The era of a Palestinian state is over."

Moves this week by "emboldened" right-wing Israeli politicians offer evidence to support that statement.

The Washington Post reports:

Right-wing leaders in the Israeli government have seized on the election of Donald Trump to push forward assertive new legislation that would legalize Jewish settlements in the West Bank built on privately owned Palestinian land.

Believing that the time to act is now, as the U.S. president-elect begins to shape his foreign policy, top Israeli ministers voted unanimously Sunday in favor of a bill that would allow Israeli settlements and outposts that were built on property owned by Palestinians to avoid court-ordered demolitions.

"Trump's spirit certainly hovers over this law," Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport wrote on Monday.

The vote drew condemnation from the U.S. State Department, whose director for press operations Elizabeth Trudeau said Monday: "This legislation would be a dramatic advancement of the settlement enterprise, which is already gravely endangering the prospects for a two-state solution."

Trudeau further told reporters that the bill "could pave the way for the legalization of dozens of illegal outposts deep in the West Bank" and "would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that is inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and breaks non-standing Israeli policy of not building on private Palestinian land."

But as Rapoport and others have noted, "what is at stake is much more than the fate of a few hundreds houses built on private Palestinian lands."

Rapoport pointed to the writings of right-wing pundit Caroline Glick, whose central argument he summarizes as such: "Israel should extend its full sovereignty and law all over the West Bank." (Glick, for her part, on Tuesday wrote of Trump's presidency that "if we play our cards right, like the American people, Israel stands to gain in ways we never dreamed of.")

In particular, Rapoport cites calls for the annexation of Maale Adumim, "a settlement situated between 6 to 15km east of the Green Line." 

Rapoport continues:

For the Palestinians—and for most of the international community—this idea is totally unacceptable as it will cut any future Palestinian state in two, separating the southern part of the West Bank from its northern one.

This is exactly why right-wing leaders are pushing for this idea: they know that if Maale Adumim is annexed, "the era of a Palestinian state" will be over, as Bennett is hoping for. 

Under the Obama administration, any move towards the annexation of Maale Adumim would have been met with sharp American opposition, including possible sanctions. Under a supportive or even an indifferent Trump administration, such a move might go through much more smoothly.

Meanwhile, Ali Abunimah argued Tuesday at Electronic Intifada that while "President-elect Trump's personal positions on the Palestinian-Israeli issue have been contradictory, the Republican Party machine that is about to take the commanding heights of the government is unambiguously aligned with the most extreme factions in Israel."

As Abunimah notes, the Republican Party's platform, released in July, "reject[s] the false notion that Israel is an occupier;" supports efforts to suppress the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS); and calls for the U.S. to cut off funding to any entity that seeks to "impose" terms on Israel—presumably a reference to the United Nations.

Furthermore, Jonathan Cook wrote Tuesday at Mondoweiss, Trump "has backed moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a move that, if implemented, would make the U.S. the first western state to recognize the city as Israel's capital. It would effectively rubber-stamp Israel's illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, the expected capital of a Palestinian state." (Still, Cook laid out reasons that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should "fear" Trump, too: namely that his unpredictable foreign policy decisions could "turn Israel into a pariah state in western capitals and leave it exposed strategically.")

Regardless, it's small wonder Bennett told the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem on Monday: "The combination of changes in the United States, in Europe, and in the region provide Israel with a unique opportunity to reset and rethink everything."

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