The Israeli Settlement policy towards the West Bank; a stabling block to the Israeli-Palestinian talks

The settlement dilemma is still considered to be one of the most insidious obstacles to the achievement of a stable and reliable peace condition in the Middle East.

The establishment of Israeli colonies in the occupied territories is acknowledged to be against the International Law, violating the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. However, although the UN has already expressed itself as being against the current Israeli policy towards Palestine, little has been done about it.

The settlement policy started right after the conflict, when the Jewish State found itself with an expected enlarged territory.  Even though there had been previous attempts of right-wing parties, namely the Herut, to pressure the government to pursue an aggressive and expansionist policy, in order to extend the border boundaries to “both the banks” of the Jordan River, these assertions were, until the 1967 aggression, considered irrational (Tenenbaum. K, Eiran. E (2005), Israeli Settlment activities in the West Bank and Gaza: A Brief Story, Negotiation Journal). The surprising Israeli triumph changed radically domestic attitudes. Israel has always been able to ignore the international law by refusing to sign the Vienna Convention, which reinforce the superiority of international community judgment over the domestic law, in case of conflict. As long as Israel is willing to bear the political repercussions of it, Tel Aviv is, therefore, under no obligation to respond to external pressures.

As explained by experts, the International law clearly states, with the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, that it is illegal, for the Occupying Power, to transfer its population into the occupied territories. Nonetheless, Israel has already replied to this criticism, asserting that the Jordanian aggression in 1967 caused it to lose its title over the West Bank, which had occupied from 1948 until 1967. The Israeli Army filled in the political vacuum that this situation created. It was not, therefore, theoretically speaking, the occupation of another state’s sovereignty soil (Galchinksy M (2004), The Jewish Settlemets in the West Bank: International Law and Israeli Jurisprudence, Indiana University Press).

Israel, however, finds itself in the middle of a political crossroads. As direct consequences of this aggressive foreign policy towards the Palestinians, two future scenarios might be found, among the several possible. On the one hand, the annex of the West Bank and the colonialized territories. This would mean the collapse of the “Jewish Dream”, that is to say the creation of a Zionist State; the Arabic population would overtake by far the number of Jewish citizens. On the other hand, the acceptance of the UN-brokered two-State solution, which ultimately, would result in a huge internal political instability considering the increasing far-right tendency registered in Israel. These trends forebodes a Jewish extremist mind-set; although many moved to the settlements to find a better life and exploit the governmental aid, many others strongly believe in the mission to conquer the “Given Land” and see this opportunity as the only chance to support this effort (Tenenbaum. K, Eiran. E (2005), Israeli Settlment activities in the West Bank and Gaza: A Brief Story, supra cit.). It might be extremely difficult to convince them to step back.

Nonetheless, if so continues, the Israeli foreign policy will ultimately destroy the on-going Middle East peace processes and causes an escalation of violence in the area. The jeopardizing of the negotiations has already been acknowledged by the International Community and obliged the United States itself to openly call for a revision of the Israeli settlement policy (Dyer. G (2016) Kerry accuses Israel of jeopardizing two-state solution, Financial Times.) The agreements, however, seem having reached a political impasse. If, on the one hand, the Palestinian Authority (PA) claims the “right to return” of the Palestinian people as a necessary condition to start the negotiations to recognize the State of Israel, the Jewish administration has already highlighted its intention to annex the settlements and their surrounding territories (Mnookin H. R, Eiran. E (2005), Discord “Behind the Table”: The Internal Conflict Among Israeli Jews Concerning the Future of Settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, Journal of Dispute Resolution, Vol. 1). Many see the incompatible interests at stake as the main cause of this stalemate.

Moreover, besides the different political views, the International landscape is, momentarily, unfavourable for the achievement of peace agreements. Two external conditions influence the Israeli-Palestinian situation: the progressive, but steady, US detachment from the Middle Eastern problem, and the worrying deterioration of the Syrian Conflict. The “West Bank dilemma” seems to have been relegated, at least from an international point of view, to a second place. Notwithstanding this, it might be wrong to underestimate the issue, especially after the new settlements plan, approved by Israel at the end of March 2017, after a 20-year political inactivity.  A solution between the two parties must be found, otherwise the chance of a future third Intifada or further Israeli military actions on the West Bank, could not be taken off the table.

Dott. Francesco Pisanò


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