Netanyahu wants to expand West Bank settlements

Former Prime Minister of Israel and current leader of the opposition Benjamin Netanyahu says he will expand Israeli West Bank settlements if he becomes Prime Minister again after February 10th’s elections.  Based on current opinion polls, it appears likely that Netanyahu’s party, Likud, will secure a  plurality of seats in the Knesset and be able to form a government.

“I have no intention of building new settlements in the West Bank,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying. “But like all the governments there have been until now, I will have to meet the needs of natural growth in the population. I will not be able to choke the settlements.”

Israel’s West Bank settlements, constructed on land captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, are probably illegal under international law and are certainly a major obstacle to a lasting peace deal with the Palestinians.  It is therefore unfortunate that Netanyahu is willing to allow them to expand.

Settlement construction in the West Bank has been a key obstacle to peace talks over the years. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank as part of a future independent state that would also include the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. They say Israel’s settlements, now home to 280,000 people in the West Bank, make it increasingly difficult for them to establish a viable state.

Nearly all Israeli settlement construction over the past decade has taken place in existing West Bank communities. And Netanyahu’s positions do not significantly differ from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has allowed construction in existing settlements to continue even while holding peace talks with the Palestinians.

The West Bank. Israeli settlements in purple, areas where Palestinian movement is restricted in pink.

The West Bank. Israeli settlements in purple, areas where Palestinian movement is restricted in pink.

The settlements (see Wikipedia article) are home to about 280,000 Israelis and make it harder to the Palestinians to form a viable state.  They also require significant security infrastructure due to violence against them from Palestinians.  While the violence is deplorable, the anger which motivates it is understandable—how would you feel if foreigners came into your country and effectively claimed permanently as their own by building cities there?  Also keep in mind that about 40% of the land on which the settlements are built is privately owned by (unremunuerated) Palestinians.  Additionally, it is not simply the land on which they sit that Palestinians are deprived of; the settlements effectively cut up the West Bank, making travel and transport through the area difficult.

There are a lot of passions involved with the Israeli-Palestinian situtation.  For a possibly less charged example of a similar sort of activity, consider the Chinese policy of trying to tightly wed Tibet, which they conquered militarily, to the People’s Republic by settling ethnic Chinese people there.

These settlements make Israel less secure, not more secure.  They are furthermore one of the biggest obstacles to peace, right up there with continued Palestinian violence.  They are increasingly costing Israelis the good will of their allies, including, quite possibly, the United States under the new Obama administration.

Kadima party leader and Prime Minister candidate Tzipi Livni has vowed to dismantle the settlements, if elected.  This blog very much hopes that she will get that chance.

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