Since President Donald Trump entered the White House on Saturday, Israel has announced a major new settlement push in the occupied West Bank.
Occupation authorities gave final approval to almost 600 housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem on Sunday, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed there would be more to come.
On Tuesday, the Israeli defense ministry followed up by announcing plans for 2,500 more units in settlements across the occupied West Bank.
These decisions clearly stem from Israel’s confidence that the Trump administration is likely to be even more pro-Israel than that of former president Barack Obama.
This confidence may have been shaken, however, since Trump has not rushed to fulfill his campaign pledge to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The new administration is now downplaying expectations that such a move will happen quickly.
There are reports that the administration has begun to understand that moving the embassy – a step that would amount to formal recognition of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem – would torpedo its hopes of achieving any sort of peace deal.
The Trump administration said nothing of substance about the settlements at the White House press briefing on Tuesday. Spokesperson Sean Spicer said only that the matter would be discussed during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington scheduled for February.
Asked if Trump would “support the expansion of settlements,” Spicer said, “Like I said, we’ll have a conversation with the prime minister.”
Whatever Trump’s position may be, Israel’s brazen actions are a further test for the international institutions that are supposed to rein in such criminal conduct.
The Rome Statute explicitly defines “the transfer, directly or indirectly by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,” as one of the “war crimes” under the remit of the International Criminal Court.
Israel’s contemptuous defiance of the recent UN Security Council resolution reaffirming the illegality of the settlements ought to factor in to the ICC prosecutor’s decision about whether to upgrade its ongoing preliminary examination of Israel’s violations into a full investigation that could lead to indictments. But there is no deadline for the prosecutor to act.
Israel is also testing the countries that made a huge show of reaffirming that all of its settlements are illegal.
This includes the 14 nations that voted for UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in December calling on Israel to immediately halt settlement construction, and the 70 governments that gathered in Paris earlier this month to restate their support for the so-called two-state solution.
Will all these countries continue to issue toothless statements or will they finally begin to exact a price from Israel for its flagrant crimes?
So far, there have only been words – the European Union called the Israeli announcement “regrettable.”
One thing is certain: politicians will not act without sustained popular pressure in the form of more BDS campaigns.