Protesters greet Netanyahu in Washington as Israel expands settlements

Hundreds of activists in Washington, DC demonstrated outside the White House to protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit on Tuesday, 6 July. As protesters held signs calling on the US government to end military aid to Israel, Netanhayu met with US President Barack Obama in a meeting characterized by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as “empty theatrics.”

“I think the Israeli government, working through layers of various governmental entities and jurisdictions, has shown restraint over the last several months that I think has been conducive to the prospects of us getting into direct talks,” Obama announced in a press briefing after their meeting yesterday, referring to Netanyahu’s settlement “moratorium.”

Earlier in the week, right-wing Zionist settler groups from colonies inside the occupied West Bank called on Netanyahu to honor a “promise to resume” settlement construction after his much-lauded ten-month moratorium that ends 26 September. The groups also urged Netanyahu not to react to pressure he could face at the White House to extend the settlement “freeze” (“Israel settlers pressure PM on construction halt,” Agence France Presse, 2 July 2010). The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that regional settler councils across the West Bank announced plans to build at least 2,700 housing units beginning 27 September. Shomron regional council deputy Ehud Stondia commented to Haaretz that the council was “preparing for construction on the scale that existed before the freeze or even more” (“2,700 houses to be built as soon as West Bank settlement freeze ends,” 5 July 2010).

But settlement construction has not, in fact, stopped during Netanyahu’s supposed moratorium that began 25 November 2009.

Coinciding with Netanyahu’s White House visit, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem published an in-depth report, with detailed maps, yesterday. The report updates Israeli settlement policy in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem from 1967 through May 2010 and documents the ongoing “means employed by Israel to gain control of land for building the settlements” (“By Hook and by Crook: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank”).

In the 79-page report, B’Tselem states that after Netanyahu’s announcement of a cessation of settlement construction, Israel’s Central Command office allowed building “for which permits had already been issued and whose foundations had been laid … Although the wording of the decision was sweeping, Haaretz reported that it was not intended to apply to East Jerusalem, to 2,500 apartments already under construction, or to 455 other apartments whose marketing the defense minister had approved prior to the decision of 25 November.”

According to B’Tselem’s documentation, the settler population inside the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has skyrocketed, notably doubling since the Oslo accords in the mid-1990s. Approximately 500,000 Israeli settlers are currently living in 121 illegal settlement colonies, in nearly 100 “outposts” in the West Bank and in 12 neighborhoods in East Jerusalem “on land it annexed to the Jerusalem Municipality … The settlement enterprise has been characterized, since its inception, by an instrumental, cynical, and even criminal approach to international law, local legislation, Israeli military orders and Israeli law, which has enabled the continuous pilfering of land from Palestinians in the West Bank.”

More than 42 percent of the West Bank, says B’Tselem, has been appropriated to this ever-expanding settlement infrastructure, despite Netanyahu’s “moratorium.”

“Israel established a legal-bureaucratic apparatus to gain control of the West Bank, based on the false grounds that the land was required for ‘military needs’ or for ‘public needs’ or that it was ‘state land,’ the objective being to transfer private and public Palestinian land to the settlements for their use,” says B’Tselem. “This apparatus enabled the transfer to the settlements of more than 42 percent of the land in the West Bank and the construction of 21 percent of the settlements’ built-up land on private Palestinian land. In operating this apparatus, Israel has extensively and systematically infringed on the right of property of Palestinians in the West Bank.”

As Barack Obama reiterated that the US-Israel bond will remain “unbreakable” yesterday at the White House, he urged Palestinians, occupied and subjected to Israel’s military apartheid structure, to avoid soliciting “opportunities to embarrass Israel.” He said he hoped talks between the Israeli government and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority would begin before the September settlement “freeze” ended.

But Dawoud Hammoud, researcher with the Ramallah-based Stop the Wall Campaign, told The Electronic Intifada that the machinations of a settlement freeze misses the bigger issue. “We are not asking to freeze the settlements. We are demanding to end the entire colonization system,” he said. “The announcement of a settlement freeze is just trying to market the failure of the peace project.”

Meanwhile, activists in New York are gearing up for protest as Netanyahu makes his way to Manhattan on Thursday, 8 July (“Protest Netanyahu in NYC,” Adalah-NY). “We are on a roll, people. The world is confronting Israeli war criminals,” states the Adalah-NY press release for the protest. “Let’s not permit this one to visit NYC with no resistance!”