It seems “no” is not a part of the Israeli government’s vocabulary when it comes to demands by West Bank settlers. A vastly disproportionate share of scarce water resources? Done. A recent UN Report (see here and here) even outlined the tactics used by the settlers to exclude Palestinian access to water above and beyond that which is already officially carried out by the Israeli state. Their own apartheid-style road networks? Done. A 26 ft tall wall that annexes their illegal settlements at the cost of $2.1 billion? Done. Weapons and training? Done. Expansion of their settlements, all of which are illegal under international law? Done. I could go on, but you get the picture.
A recent exhaustive survey of Israeli colonization of the West Bank has estimated that the total cost of settlement construction of infrastructure at $17 billion, though it should be noted that this figure excludes the gargantuan military costs involved in maintaining the occupation. All of this while, last August, Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest the spiralling cost of living and the lack of housing within the Green Line. But of course, it is the Palestinians themselves who have paid the biggest price for Israel’s colonization of the West Bank, paid for with lost land, lives, and a well-documented array of humanitarian impacts. Most recently, a damning EU report on settler violence against Palestinians that Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal attempted to suppress has been leaked.
Settlers have ensured that they always get what they want by wielding disproportionate influence over successive Israeli governments, regardless of which party is in power. At the same time, they have been incredibly successful at distorting the very discourse and language used to discuss their colonization of Palestinian land. Illegal colonies have become “Jewish neighbourhoods” while the Occupied Territories are merely “disputed territories” in Israel’s Orwellian lexicon.
Every once in a while, however, the settlers seem to reach the limits of impunity, as in this past Sunday when the Israeli High Court rejected the government’s request to postpone the evacuation of the Migron settlement for over three years. The “agreement” to postpone the settlement’s demolition had been reached between Netanyahu’s government and settlers of Migron. Needless to say, the Palestinians who legally own the land were not consulted. But in a surprise to some who thought that Israeli High Court Chief Justice Asher Dan Grunis would be sympathetic to the settlers’ claims, the Israeli High Court rejected the deal and ordered that Migron be evacuated and the land returned to its rightful Palestinian owners by August 1. Predictably, the settlers responded petulantly, urging Netanyahu to defy the judgement of Israel’s highest court.
The settlers’ histrionic response is, of course, far out of proportion to the ruling’s actual significance, a telling indicator of just how rarely they don’t get their way. Every once in a while Israel’s High Court makes a piecemeal ruling that maintains Israel’s facade of democracy and accountability – an adjustment to the West Bank wall here, an order to demolish a settlement there. Such rulings completely ignore the fact that both the wall and the settlements are illegal under international law, and do next to nothing to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians chafing under Israeli occupation and colonization of their land.
There exists, however, a far more significant, some would even say inevitable, check on the limits of the settlers’ impunity. Ever increasingly the death knell of the two state solution is being rung. Ironically, the settlers’ triumphal expansion of their settlements and road networks has meant that Palestinian and Israeli communities have become increasingly intertwined. In short, the settlers are very fast becoming victims of their own success. There is some poetic justice in this, but that will come as no consolation to the Palestinians who remain subject to the whims, caprices, and brutality of their occupiers.