Category Archives: West Bank

The Moral Devastation of the Continued Occupation

I have long maintained that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank defies the moral principle behind the creation of the state. Contrary to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion, the occupation erodes rather than buttresses Israel’s national security and cannot be justified on either security or moral grounds. Trump’s “deal of the century” is tantamount to perpetuating the occupation, which will be to Israel’s detriment. Unless Israel embraces a new moral path and ends the occupation, no one can prevent it from unravelling from within only to become a pariah state that has lost its soul, wantonly abandoning the cherished dreams of its founding fathers to have an independent democratic Jewish state.

There are four ethical theories—Kantian, utilitarian, virtue-based, and religious—that demonstrate the lack of moral foundation in Trump’s peace plan. In this article I will discuss the Kantian, utilitarian moral theories and in the following article I will cover the virtue-based, and religious theories.

The first moral theory is deontological ethics, whose greatest representative is Immanuel Kant. According to this theory, consequences are irrelevant to the moral rightness or wrongness of an action; what matters is whether the action is done for the sake of duty or out of respect for the moral law.

Kant provided several formulations of the moral law, which he refers to as the categorical imperative; for our purposes, what is most important are his first two formulations. The first is the principle that morality requires us to act only on those maxims we can universalize. As he puts it, “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” In short, never do anything that you couldn’t will everybody else to do at the same time.

The question is whether the Israeli occupation is a policy that can be universalized and pass this test of moral reasoning. The answer is clearly no; the policy of occupation is rationally inconsistent, as it requires Israel to exempt itself from moral and political norms that the rest of the international community recognizes (and which serve to protect Israel itself).

Israel is making an exception of itself – which is the capital sin, according to Kant, as in effect Israel is saying: ‘We don’t have to live by the same rules as everyone else.’ This is evident from the fact that Israel denies the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and justifies that in the name of national security, even though the achievement of absolute security would invariably render the Palestinians absolutely vulnerable.

Whereas Israel has agreed numerous times to a two-state solution, it continues to usurp Palestinian land, thereby violating international agreements which Israel is signatory to (UN Resolution 242, the Oslo Accords). In doing so, Israel is clearly defying the first formulation of the categorical imperative, which as Kant showed, requires us to honor our agreements and contracts. That is, Israel is acting on a maxim or policy of breaking its agreements to serve its self-interest, which cannot be universalized without contradiction because then the institution of reaching international agreements cannot be sustained, which obviously don’t bother either Trump or Netanyahu.

Although many countries break international contracts, that does not affect Kant’s argument as he knew full well that people lie, cheat, and steal. His concern is with the principle of morality and what it requires regardless of whether these requirements are, in fact, met. By maintaining the occupation, Israel is flouting the moral law while expecting the Palestinians to uphold the same norms.

The second formulation is to never treat another person merely as a means, but always also as an end in themselves. In other words, what Kant is saying is that as free rational beings who can act in accordance with morality, each of us possesses intrinsic worth which implies that we must respect the inherent dignity of each individual.

In the case of the Palestinians who are under occupation, Israel is treating them as objects rather than persons who can rationally consent to the way they are being treated. Israel is coercing the Palestinians physically and psychologically by denying them human rights, through, for example, administrative detention, night raids, and expulsion, thereby robbing them of their dignity and denying them their autonomy, which Trump’s Deal only reinforces.

The second moral theory is Utilitarianism, which in its modern form originated in England with the works of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. In contrast to Kantianism, this theory places all emphasis on the consequences of our actions. It states that an action is morally right if it produces the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people.

The moral evaluation of any policy depends on whether it maximizes utility. Utilitarianism agrees with Kant on one fundamental point, which is that morality prohibits making an exception of oneself. For obvious reasons, governments give greater priority to their own people. But does the occupation maximize the security and well-being of all Israelis?

In spite of the fact that Israel takes extraordinary measures to enhance its security, the occupation is, in fact, undermining the security of the state, as is evident from the repeated bloody clashes which have intensified since unveiling of the peace plan, and the costly state of readiness that Israel must maintain. Moreover, if Israel were to extend its moral considerations beyond its own people to include the Palestinians, then the policy of occupation still fails on utilitarian grounds even more acutely.

To be sure, while Israel resorts to utilitarian arguments to justify its treatment of the Palestinians, in the process Israel reveals the classic pitfall of utilitarian thinking. It ultimately does not provide sufficient protection and respect for human rights, which directly erodes Israel’s moral standing within the community of nations.

Profiting from Loss: How Business in Illegal Israeli Settlements Continues Unchecked

After lengthy delays, the United Nations finally published a database last week of businesses that have been profiting from Israel’s illegal annexation and settlement activity in the West Bank.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced that 112 major companies had been identified as operating in Israeli settlements in ways that violate human rights.

Aside from major Israeli banks, transport services, cafes, supermarkets, and energy, building and telecoms firms, prominent international businesses include Airbnb, booking.com, Motorola, Trip Advisor, JCB, Expedia and General Mills.

Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog, noted in response to the list’s publication that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. It argued that the firms’ activities mean they have aided “in the commission of war crimes”.

The companies’ presence in the settlements has helped to blur the distinction between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. That in turn has normalised the erosion of international law and subverted a long-held international consensus on establishing a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Work on compiling the database began four years ago. But both Israel and the United States put strong pressure on the UN in the hope of preventing the list from ever seeing the light of day.

The UN body’s belated assertiveness looks suspiciously like a rebuke to the Trump administration for releasing this month its Middle East “peace” plan. It green-lights Israel’s annexation of the settlements and the most fertile and water-rich areas of the West Bank.

In response to the database, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to intensify his country’s interference in US politics. He noted that his officials had already “promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel.”

He was backed by all Israel’s main Jewish parties. Amir Peretz, leader of the centre-left Labour party, vowed to “work in every forum to repeal this decision”. And Yair Lapid, a leader of Blue and White, the main rival to Netanyahu, called Bachelet the “commissioner for terrorists’ rights”.

Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, accused the UN of “unrelenting anti-Israel bias” and of aiding the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

In fact, the UN is not taking any meaningful action against the 112 companies, nor is it encouraging others to do so. The list is intended as a shaming tool – highlighting that these firms have condoned, through their commercial activities, Israel’s land and resource theft from Palestinians.

The UN has even taken an extremely narrow view of what constitutes involvement with the settlements. For example, it excluded organisations like FIFA, the international football association, whose Israeli subsidiary includes six settlement teams.

One of the identified companies, Airbnb, announced in late 2018 that it would remove from its accommodation bookings website all settlement properties – presumably to avoid being publicly embarrassed.

But a short time later Airbnb backed down. It is hard to imagine the decision was taken on strictly commercial grounds: the firm has only 200 settlement properties on its site.

A more realistic conclusion is that Airbnb feared the backlash from Washington and was intimated by a barrage of accusations from pro-Israel groups that its new policy was anti-semitic.

In fact, the UN’s timing could not be more tragic. The list looks more like the last gasp of those who – through their negligence over nearly three decades – have enabled the two-state solution to wither to nothing.

Trump’s so-called peace plan could afford to be so one-sided only because western powers had already allowed Israel to void any hope of Palestinian statehood through decades of unremitting settlement expansion. Today, nearly 700,000 Israeli Jews are housed on occupied Palestinian territory.

On Monday European Union foreign ministers were due to meet to discuss their response to the plan. Tepid criticism was the most that could be expected.

The actions of several European states continue to speak much louder than any words.

On Friday, Germany followed the Czech Republic in filing a petition to the International Criminal Court at The Hague siding with Israel as the court deliberates whether to prosecute Israeli officials for war crimes, including over the establishment of settlements.

Germany does not appear to deny that the settlements are war crimes. Instead, it hopes to block the case on dubious technical grounds: that despite Palestine signing up to the Rome Statute, which established the Hague court, it is not yet a fully fledged state.

So far Austria, Hungary, Australia and Brazil appear to be following suit.

But if Palestine lacks the proper attributes of statehood, it is because the US and Europe, including Germany, have consistently broken promises to the Palestinians.

They not only refused to intervene to save the two-state solution, but rewarded Israel with trade deals and diplomatic and financial incentives, even as Israel eroded the institutional and territorial integrity necessary for Palestinian self-rule.

Germany’s stance, like that of the rest of Europe, is hypocritical. They have claimed opposition to Israel’s endless settlement expansion, and now to Trump’s plan, but their actions have paved the way to the annexation of the West Bank the plan condones.

Back in November the European Court of Justice finally ruled that products made in West Bank settlements – using illegally seized Palestinian resources on illegally seized Palestinian land – should not be labelled deceptively as “Made in Israel”.

And yet European countries are still postponing implementation of the decision. Instead, some of them are legislating against their citizens’ right to express support for a settlement boycott.

Similarly, Europe and North America continue to afford the Jewish National Fund, an entity that finances settlement-building, “charitable status”, giving it tax breaks as it raises funds inside their jurisdictions.

The Israeli media is full of stories of how the JNF actively assists extremist settler groups in evicting Palestinians from homes in East Jerusalem. But Britain and other states are blocking legal efforts to challenge the JNF’s special status.

Soon, it seems, Europe will no longer have to worry about its hypocrisy being so visible. Once the settlements have been annexed, as the Trump administration intends, the EU can set aside its ineffectual agonising and treat the settlements as irrevocably Israeli – just as it has done in practice with the Israeli “neighbourhoods” of occupied East Jerusalem.

Then, the UN’s list of shame can join decades’ worth of condemnatory resolutions that have been quietly gathering dust.

• First published in The National

Breaking with Washington: Arabs and Muslims Must Take a Stance for Palestine

A negotiated solution to the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’, at least the way envisaged by successive US administrations, has failed. Now, Palestinians and their allies would have to explore a whole new path of liberation that does not go through Washington.

It is easy to place all the blame on the current US administration, setting apart dodgy characters such as the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the man who has single-handedly diminished any real chances for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

The truth, however, greatly differs from conveniently molded assumptions. The US-championed ‘peace process’ has been in a hiatus since the last negotiations in 2014. For years prior to the announcement of Donald Trump’s ‘Middle East Plan’ on January 28, Israel did everything in its power to ensure Palestinians can never have a state of their own. Not only did Israeli officials openly speak of their desire to illegally annex much of the occupied territories, but the Israeli government has taken numerous steps to ensure the constant expansion of illegal Jewish settlements.

One would have to be politically naive and morally blind to assume that the Israeli government, at any point in the past, had an iota of interest in a just peace that would guarantee the Palestinian people a minimum amount of dignity, freedom and justice.

Yet, everyone has played along: Israel complained that it has no peace partner while simultaneously entrenching its military occupation and expanding its colonial regime; the Palestinian Authority (PA) of President Mahmoud Abbas ceaselessly waved empty threats, which ultimately amounted to nothing; the Americans urged both parties to return to ‘unconditional negotiations’, all the while funding, to the amount of $3.8 billion, the Israeli military and economy; the United Nations and the European Union followed a predictable political script that was seen as more ‘moderate’ than that of Washington, yet failed to take a single meaningful action to discourage Israel from further violations of international law.

Meanwhile, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), who are arguably Palestine’s more solid and consistent allies, remained marginal and, by far, the least relevant of all parties. Their occasional statements in support of Palestinians and condemnation of the Israeli occupation became so predictable and ineffectual. Aside from Abbas and his Authority, ordinary Palestinians saw no value in verbal support that hardly ever translated into tangible action.

Somehow, this skewed paradigm sustained itself for many years, partly because it suited everyone except the Palestinian people, of course, whose subjugation and humiliation by Israel carried on unhindered.

Presently, there are two different currents fighting to define the situation in Palestine in the post-‘Deal of the Century’ era.

First, Israel and the United States, who are keen to translate the ‘Middle East plan’ into rapid and irreversible action. They are eager to annex the illegal settlements of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley (approximately 30% of the total size of the West Bank). Moreover, Washington would like to see its diligent, clandestine efforts aimed at normalization between Arabs and Israel translate into actual agreements and, eventually, full diplomatic ties.

Second, the Palestinian Authority, the EU, the UN, the Arab League and the OIC, want the ‘Deal of the Century’ defeated, but they have no alternative path to follow. They insist on respect for international law and remain die-hard supporters of the unfeasible two-state paradigm, but they have no actual strategy, let alone an enforcement mechanism to make that happen.

The pro-PA camp reeks with contradictions, that are no less obvious than that of Abbas’ Authority, which speaks of ‘popular resistance’ while, jointly with Israel, is suppressing any attempt aimed at challenging the Israeli occupation.

A perfect example of the contradictions in this camp is that only two days after the Arab League issued its statement rejecting the ‘Deal of the Century’, the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met with right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Uganda. Burhan is hoping to swap normalization with Israel for Washington’s favors.

Another example is reflected in the behavior of Abbas himself, who, on February 1, declared that he would sever all contacts with Israel, including the so-called security coordination, a main pillar in the Oslo agreement, which practically employs PA security forces in the service of the Israeli occupation.

This is not the first time that Abbas has resorted to this lifeline, but he has never gone through with his promises. We have no reason to believe that this time is any different.

There is little hope that the pro-PA camp, as exemplified in the current political structure, can truly defeat the ‘Deal of the Century’.

The final statements resulting from the Arab League summit in Cairo and the OIC summit in Jeddah on February 1 and 3 respectively, is a repeat of numerous past conferences, where promises were made and condemnations were leveled, with no follow-up nor any action.

If Arabs and Muslims are, indeed, sincere in their desire to confront US-Israeli plotting, they ought to go beyond this stifling pattern of impractical politics. It is not enough to reject Washington’s stratagem and to denounce Israeli action. They ought to muster enough courage to turn their statements into an actual, unified strategy, and their strategy into action, using all means at their disposal.

Arab countries enjoy massive economic and political leverage in Washington and throughout the world. What’s the value of all of this leverage if not used in defense of Palestine and her people?

Washington and Tel Aviv are counting on the fact that anger at the ‘Deal of the Century’ among Arabs and Muslims will eventually peter out, exactly as happened after Trump recognized all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving his country’s embassy there in May 2018.

If Arabs and Muslims fail Palestine again, then, once more, the Palestinian people will find themselves alone in this desperate fight, which they have no other alternative but to undergo. And when Palestinians rise, as they surely will, their uprising will challenge not just Israel but the entire regional and international apparatus that allowed the Israeli occupation to go unchallenged for so many years.

Israel’s Palestinian Minority has Good Reason to Fear Trump’s Plan

The Trump administration’s decision to green-light Israel’s annexation of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank grabbed headlines last week. But US support for a related proposal – one equally cherished by Israel’s extreme right – was far less noticed.

Under the terms of the “Peace to Prosperity” document, the US could allow Israel to strip potentially hundreds of thousands of its own inhabitants of their citizenship in a so-called “populated land swap” with the settlements.

Those in danger of having their citizenship revoked are drawn from Israel’s large Palestinian minority – one in five of the country’s population.

These Palestinians are descended from families that managed to avoid the large-scale expulsions by the Israeli army in 1948 that led to the creation of a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland.

The plan would require minor modifications to borders recognised since Israel agreed to a ceasefire with its Arab neighbours in 1949.

The result would be to transfer a long, thin strip of land in Israel known as the “Triangle” into the West Bank – along with a dozen towns and villages densely populated with Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

Unwelcome guests

Samer Atamni, director of the Jewish-Arab centre for peace at Givat Haviva, an institute promoting greater social integration in Israel, lives in Kafr Karia, one the towns likely to be moved under the plan.

“There’s been talk about this idea for a while but mostly from the extreme right. Now Trump has brought it out of the margins and into the mainstream,” he told Middle East Eye.

“The worry is that it will become the basis of any future political solution. It has been normalised.”

Yousef Jabareen, a member of the Israeli parliament from Umm al-Fahm, home to 50,000 Palestinians and the largest community targeted by the “land swap”, said the proposal was a dramatic step-up in a growing campaign to delegitimise the Palestinian minority.

“Even if the plan cannot be implemented yet, it presents us – the native people of the land – as unwelcome guests, as a fifth column, as the enemy,” he told MEE.

“And it will inflame the right-wing’s incitement, including from [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, that Palestinian members of the parliament are representatives for a terrorist population.”

‘Pieces on a chessboard’

Defenders of the plan have argued that it does not violate the rights of those affected because they would not be physically forced from their homes. Instead, their communities would be reassigned to a Palestinian state.

But forcible transfer of the kind suggested in the Trump plan – sometimes referred to as “static transfer” – is likely to constitute a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Atamni noted that families would be torn apart. Those inside the Triangle would be separated behind checkpoints and walls from family members living elsewhere in Israel. It would also cut many off from their places of work, schools and colleges, as well as their historic lands.

“We study and work in Israel. It is the only reality our community has known for decades,” he said.

“It confirms our worst fears that Israel does not take our rights as citizens seriously, that it thinks it can simply issue diktats, and play with our futures as if we are pieces on a chessboard.”

Worse on other side

Jabareen pointed out that residents of the Triangle had no reason to be reassured about their prospects from the Trump document.

“What state is it that we would be transferred to? From the Trump plan it is clear that there will be no Palestinian state, only a series of ghettoes, South African-style Bantustans. Under this plan, we would be placed under Israeli military rule, under occupation and apartheid.”

Baraa Mahamid, a 20-year-old activist with the Umm al-Fahm Youth Movement, agreed. He pointed out that many residents of the Triangle travelled into West Bank cities like Jenin, which is close by.

“We see the greater poverty there, the checkpoints, the walls, Israeli soldiers everywhere. There are many problems for us living here in Israel, but people are afraid their life would become much worse on the other side of the wall.”

Demographic timebomb

According to Israeli government sources quoted this week by the Haaretz daily, Netanyahu was the one who persuaded the Americans to include the transfer option.

He is reported to have been lobbying US officials to adopt the provision since work first began on Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” back in 2017.

It is the first time that an official US peace plan has included such a proposal or produced a map showing how such a territorial exchange would work on the ground.

For Netanyahu and many Israeli Jews, who see the country’s Palestinian citizens as a “demographic timebomb”, with high birth rates that might slowly erode the state’s decisive Jewish majority, the transfer plan is both a demographic and territorial win.

According to polls, about half of Israeli Jews support the expulsion of Palestinian citizens.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, which brings together the main Palestinian political factions, warned this week that the transfer of the Triangle was likely to be only the first stage in wider measures.

The Israeli right, he said, was “conveying a clear message to all of Israel’s Arab citizens: ‘You are not welcome here and your turn will come when the next plan is released’.”

Territorial gains

The transfer of the Triangle offers a twofold gain for the right.

First, it subtracts large numbers of Palestinians from Israel’s population without losing much territory, thereby strengthening Israel’s Jewish majority.

Second, it rationalises Israel’s “reciprocal” annexation of swaths of West Bank territory on which the Jewish settlements are built, thereby defeating any chance of creating a viable Palestinian state.

But critically for those who support annexation, it substantially increases Israel’s territorial area without risking a rise in Palestinian numbers.

According to figures published by Peace Now this week, some 380,000 Palestinians – 260,000 in the Triangle and a further 120,000 in East Jerusalem – would be “swapped out” to a Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, some 330,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would need to be “swapped in” – that is, brought under Israeli rule as part of the annexations.

The overall gain would be official US recognition for the first time of territory housing 650,000 Jewish settlers as part of Israel.

“The demographic rationale behind this isn’t being hidden,” said Jabareen. “Israel loses lots of Palestinian citizens and gains lots of territory seized by Jewish settlers.”

Citizenship and loyalty

Schemes to transfer the Triangle have been floating around on the right for nearly two decades. It first came to prominence when a formal plan was published by Avigdor Lieberman, a settler who has served as defence and foreign minister under Netanyahu.

He has been keen to tie citizenship rights to “loyalty” to Israel as a Jewish state. In previous election campaigns, he has run under the slogan: “No loyalty, no citizenship.”

Transferring the Triangle has been seen by the right as a prelude to much wider revocations of citizenship for Palestinians, according to Jabareen.

In recent years more politicians on the right, including Netanyahu, have been explicit that Palestinian citizens are necessarily disloyal to a Jewish state because they hold on to their Palestinian identity.

‘Sword over our heads’

Such imputations of disloyalty were a mainstay of Netanyahu’s two election campaigns last year. He accused Israel’s Palestinian voters of wanting “to annihilate us all – women, children and men”.

He also sent his Likud party’s monitors into polling stations in Palestinian communities in Israel wearing body cameras, implying that Palestinian voters were defrauding the Jewish majority.

Jabareen noted: “In the parliament, members of the ruling coalition openly incite against us. Bezalel Smotrich [a settler leader, and currently the transport minister] says it proudly: ‘Accept your inferior status, or you will go to jail or be expelled.’ For them, the Triangle plan is a sword hanging over our heads.”

Palestinian identity

The assumption of disloyalty is implied in the wording of the Trump plan, which states that residents of the Triangle’s communities “largely self-identify as Palestinian”.

In fact, noted Atamni, the situation is far more complex. Surveys suggest that there is a complicated interplay between the minority’s Palestinian, Arab, Israeli and various religious identities.

“Yes, our national identity is Palestinian, but that doesn’t detract in any way from the fact that our civil identity is Israeli,” he said. “When we struggle in Israel it is for our civil rights, to end the discrimination we face from the state and receive equality as citizens.”

Nonetheless, the transfer proposal contained in Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” is in line with recent legislative moves by Israel that sanction the downgrading of the status of Palestinian citizens.

The most significant is the Nation-State Law, passed in 2018. It confers constitution-like status on Israel’s Jewishness, revokes Arabic as an official language, and makes a top priority of Judaisation – a policy of settling Jews into Palestinian areas inside Israel and the occupied territories.

“Over the last 10 years Israeli society has moved further right very quickly,” said Atamni. “The left in Israel has been a huge disappointment. Most have kept silent about the recent threats to our status.”

Political calculations

Jabareen observed that the ultra-nationalist bloc supporting Netanyahu had a pressing political need to delegitimise the standing of Palestinians as citizens, and especially as voters.

Netanyahu has been unable to form a government for the past year – and thereby avoid an impending corruption trial – because he has twice narrowly lost to an opposition bloc led by a former army general, Benny Gantz, of the Blue and White party.

The bloc under Gantz can only end the stalemate and win power itself if it allies with the Joint List, which represents Israel’s Palestinian minority. But Gantz has embraced the Trump plan, breaking any possible alliance with the Joint List.

If both Jewish blocs again fail to win a majority in the election on 2 March, the pressure will mount on Gantz to enter a rightwing unity government with Netanyahu, probably on Netanyahu’s terms.

Disillusionment from Palestinian voters and a drop in their turnout might also mean Netanyahu’s coalition can scrape over the electoral threshold and win back power.

Additionally, Netanyahu is trying to grow the right-wing bloc by urging his far-right coalition partners to form an electoral alliance with the Jewish Power party, heirs of the outlawed Kach movement. They demand the expulsion of Palestinians from a Greater Israel.

The US decision to support a platform that promotes the transfer of large numbers of Palestinian citizens against their will could help rehabilitate the image of the racists of Jewish Power, making them look more politically respectable.

Internment camps

Before Netanyahu began lobbying for a transfer of the Triangle in 2017, he had sought to persuade former President Obama’s officials of its benefits as early as 2014. According to the Maariv newspaper, Netanyahu argued that the move would reduce the Palestinian minority from a fifth of Israel’s population to 12 per cent.

At the same time, the Israeli foreign ministry produced a document analysing how a “population exchange” might be presented as in accordance with international law. It concluded that the measure would require that either the affected citizens supported the move or the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas backed it.

Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Palestinian citizens are opposed.

Aware of the minority’s hostility, the Netanyahu government staged a drill in 2010 in which Israeli security services trained for an uprising in response to transferring the Triangle. As part of the exercise, internment camps were established for protesters.

Mahamid, the youth activist from Umm al-Fahm, said the plan had at least made the reality of life for Palestinian citizens clearer.

“We were told our citizenship would protect us, that it would get us our rights if we were loyal. But it never did. And now that is being made explicit in the threat to expel us.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

Palestinian Rights and Western Duplicity

President Trump’s fraudulent Middle East deal runs roughshod over Palestinian rights, harms long-term Israeli interests, and is only the latest example of the US arrogance and disdain for international law. Essentially Trump’s offer, negotiated without any Palestinian input, requires the Palestinians to sell out their hopes for justice and a decent life free of occupation for money. Trump was attempting to satisfy Israel and its US supporters, including many of his big money donors, with this deal that would allow Israel to steal even more Palestinian land.

Former President Carter’s office said in a statement that Trump’s plan “breaches international law regarding self-determination, the acquisition of land by force, and annexation of occupied territories…. By calling Israel ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people,’ the plan also encourages the denial of equal rights to the Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

Robert Fisk, a British reporter and expert on the Middle East, said the deal was unique and historic: “since its belief that the Palestinians would dream of accepting such a deranged, farcical set of political demands is without precedent in the western world.”

Israel and the US have little-to-zero credibility given their failures in living up to international law and agreements they have signed. Therefore, why would the Palestinians or anyone else trust them not to renege on any deal Trump proposed, even one as biased in Israel’s favor as this proposal?

Trump’s latest proposal continues over 100 years of crimes by the Western colonial powers against Palestinians. Britain, the leading colonial power of the time, set the stage for troubles in the Middle East with its 1917 Balfour Declaration that called for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Declaration also said that nothing was to be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities that were the overwhelming majority of the population in Palestine.

Complicating the situation, before the Balfour Declaration Britain had already promised the Arabs independence and self-determination in the Middle East, except for a small area where France had interests, if they would rise up against the Ottoman Empire. The Arabs accepted the agreement and revolted against the Ottomans. However, France and Britain had already agreed to divide up the area between themselves. This British perfidy was not unusual for a colonial power.

After WWII, Britain eventually turned over the Palestinian issue to the UN. In November 1947 the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. In September, before the Partition Plan for Palestine was approved, Loy Henderson, director of the US State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, warned:

The UNSCOP [U.N. Special Committee on Palestine] Majority Plan is not only unworkable; if adopted, it would guarantee that the Palestine problem would be permanent and still more complicated in the future.

Henderson added:

The proposals contained in the UNSCOP plan … are in definite contravention to various principles laid down in the [U.N.] Charter as well as to principles on which American concepts of Government are based. These proposals, for instance, ignore such principles as self-determination and majority rule. They recognize the principle of a theocratic racial state and even go so far in several instances as to discriminate on grounds of religion and race against persons outside of Palestine.

Based on domestic political concerns, President Truman ignored this guidance from the State Department and supported the partition plan. For over 70 years now, with only a few exceptions, domestic political concerns have played an important role in shaping the US position in the Middle East. Trump is only the latest US president who ignored international law and human rights in his support of ongoing Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.

The Trump Plan is Just a Cover for Israel’s Final Land Grab

The Trump “Vision for Peace” will never be implemented – and not because the Palestinians reject it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s enthusiastic public embrace of the plan belies the fact that the Israeli right detest it too.

The headlines are that, with US blessing, Israel’s dream is about to be realised: it will be able to annex its dozens of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley. In return, the Palestinians can have a state on 15 per cent of their homeland.

But that is not the real aim of this obviously one-sided “peace” plan. Rather, it is intended as the prelude to something far worse for the Palestinians: the final eradication of the last traces of their political project for national liberation.

US President Donald Trump’s plan is neither a blueprint for peace nor a decree from the heart of the US empire. Rather it is a decoy, an enormous red herring created in Tel Aviv and then marketed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Trump may think his vision could lead to a “realistic” two-state solution. Even many critics assume it envisions the establishment of a highly circumscribed, enfeebled Palestinian state. But for Israeli leaders it serves another purpose entirely: it provides diplomatic cover while they put the finishing touches to their version of a one-state solution inside Greater Israel.

Netanyhau has crafted a “deal of the century” designed to fail from the outset – and managed it through deeply partisan White House intermediaries like David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, and Kushner. For all of them, its purpose is to provide a fresh alibi for Israel and Washington to continue disappearing the Palestinians more than two decades after the illusions of the earlier Oslo Accords “peace” process can no longer be sustained.

Israeli bad faith

That this is intended as a grand deception should not surprise us. The current plan follows a tried and tested tradition of US-dominated “peacemaking” that has utterly failed to bring peace but has succeeded triumphantly in smothering and erasing historic Palestine, gradually transforming it into Greater Israel.

Trump’s deal is, in fact, the third major framework – after the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan and the Oslo accords initiated in 1993 – supposedly offering territorial partition between Israelis and Palestinians. The lesson of each has been that Israel and the US have returned after each inevitable and intended failure to offer the Palestinians even less of their homeland.

On each occasion, Israel (and before its creation, the Zionist leadership) has signed up to these peacemaking initiatives in bad faith, forcing Palestinians, as the weaker party, to reject them. And each time, that rejection has been weaponised by Israel – used as a pretext to steal more territory.

This plan is no different from the others. It is simply the latest iteration of a pattern of settler-colonial expansion sponsored by Western powers. But this time, if Israel succeeds, there will be nothing left of Palestine even to pretend to negotiate over.

UN partition rejected

The idea of division first took substantive form with the United Nations Partition Plan of late 1947. It proposed creating two states: a Jewish one on 55 percent of Palestine would supposedly serve as compensation for Europe’s recent genocide; and an Arab one, on the remaining 45 percent, would be for the native Palestinian population.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, knew that the Palestinians were bound to reject a plan premised on their dispossession. That was the very reason he signed on. He hated the limitations imposed by the UN on his emerging Jewish state – he wanted all of Palestine – but was only too aware that Palestinians hated the partition proposal even more than he did. He knew his good faith would never be put to the test.

Under cover of the ensuing, year-long war, Ben-Gurion sent his troops way beyond the partition lines, seizing 78 percent of historic Palestine and transforming the area into a Jewish state. In 1967, his successors would grab the rest, as part of a surprise strike against Egypt and other Arab states. And so, the 53-year-long occupation was born.

Oslo’s separation logic

Just as now with the Trump plan, the Oslo process of the 1990s was not rooted in the idea of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state – only of pretending to offer one. In fact, statehood wasn’t mentioned in the Oslo accords, only implied by a series of intended Israeli withdrawals from the occupied territories over a five-year period that Israel reneged on.

Instead, Oslo was seen by the Israeli side, led then by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, chiefly in terms of an “economic peace”. The new rallying cry of “separation” was intended to transform fragments of the occupied territories into free-trade zones to exploit a captive Palestinian labour force, and then to normalise relations with the Arab world.

Oslo’s only meaningful legacy – the Palestinian Authority, today led by Mahmoud Abbas – still clings to its primary role: as prison guard overseeing Palestinians’ confinement in ever-shrinking fragments of the occupied territories.

The Trump plan recognises that Oslo is now more an obstacle than a vehicle for further Palestinian dispossession. Israel has absolute control of East Jerusalem, the planned capital of a Palestinian state. The army and settlers have cemented Israeli rule over 62 percent of the West Bank – territory Oslo declared as Area C – that includes its best agricultural land, water sources and mineral wealth. Gaza, isolated from the rest of the occupied territories, is besieged.

The only thing left for Israel to do now is formalise that control and ensure it is irreversible. That requires making permanent the current apartheid system in the West Bank, which enforces one set of laws for Jewish settlers and another for Palestinians.

Palestinian obligations

Trump’s “Vision for Peace” is needed only because Oslo has outlived its usefulness. The Trump plan radically overhauls the Oslo process formula: instead of a supposed sharing of obligations – “land in return for peace” – those obligations are now imposed exclusively on the Palestinian side.

Under Oslo, Israel was supposed to withdraw from the occupied territories as a precondition for achieving Palestinian statehood and an end to hostilities. In reality, Israel did the exact opposite.

Under the Trump plan, Israel gets the land it wants immediately – by annexing its illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley – and it gets more land later, unless Palestinians agree to a long list of impossible preconditions.

Even then, Palestinians would only be entitled to a demilitarised, non-sovereign state on less than 15 percent of historic Palestine, amounting to a patchwork of enclaves connected by a warren of tunnels and bridges, surrounded by armed, fortress-like Israeli communities.

But even this vision of pseudo-Palestinian statehood will never come to fruition – something Netanyahu has made sure of. The Trump plan is a catalogue of the most unacceptable, humiliating concessions that could ever be demanded of the Palestinian people.

Impossible preconditions

It offers them a state that would be unlike any state ever envisaged. Not only would it have no army, but it would have to permanently accommodate a foreign army, the Israeli one. Palestine would have no control over its borders, and therefore its foreign relations and trade. It would be deprived of key resources, such as its offshore waters, which include large deposits of natural gas; its airspace; and its electromagnetic spectrum.

It would be deprived of its most fertile land, its quarries, its water sources, and access to the Dead Sea and its related mineral and cosmetics industries. As a result, the Palestinian economy would continue to be entirely aid dependent. Proposed industrial zones in the Negev, accessible only through Israeli territory, could be closed off by Israel at a whim.

East Jerusalem, including its holy sites and tourism industry, would be sealed off from the Palestinian state, which would have its capital instead outside the city, in Abu Dis. That village would be renamed Al-Quds, the Holy, although the deception would satisfy outsiders only, not Palestinians.

Intentionally lacking specifics for the time being, the Trump vision suggests Israel and Jordan would eventually share sovereignty over Jerusalem’s most important holy site, Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The US appears ready to let Israel forcibly divide the site so that Jewish extremists, who want to blow up the mosque and replace it with a temple, can pray there – in a repetition of what happened earlier to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

No legal redress

There would be no Palestinian right of return. Abbas would need to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, retrospectively sanctioning Palestinians’ dispossession and colonisation.

The Trump plan demands that the PA strip the families of political prisoners and martyrs killed by the Israeli army – the Palestinian equivalents of Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko – of their welfare payments.

In an interview with CNN this week, Kushner made clear quite how intentionally contradictory his demands of Palestinians are. Before it can be recognised as a state, the Palestinian Authority is expected to enforce the disarmament of the Palestinian factions, including its militant rival Hamas.

But it will have to do so while behaving like some kind of idealised Switzerland, according to Kushner, who insists that it uphold the most stringent democratic standards and absolute respect for human rights.

He indicated that the PA would fail such tests. It was, he said, a “police state” and “not exactly a thriving democracy”.

The Trump plan’s proposed democratic Palestine, it should be noted, would not be eligible to partake of international justice. Should Israel commit atrocities against Palestinians, the PA would have to forgo any appeals to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which adjudicates on war crimes.

And in a final proof of its determination to ensure Palestinians reject the deal, the Trump administration has dusted off a forcible transfer plan long promoted by the former far-right defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Israel could then redraw the borders to strip potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Israel of their citizenship. Such a move would constitute a war crime.

Nightmare scenario

The Trump plan’s secret weapon is hidden in the “four-year clause”, as Kushner’s CNN interview makes explicit. He said: “If they [the PA] don’t think that they can uphold these standards, then I don’t think we can get Israel to take the risk to recognise them as a state, to allow them to take control of themselves, because the only thing more dangerous than what we have now is a failed state.”

Israel and the US know that not only will Abbas or his successor never consent to the White House’s nightmare scenario, but that they could never meet these preconditions even if they wished to. But if the Palestinians don’t concede everything demanded of them within four years, Israel will be free to start grabbing and annexing yet more Palestinian land.

And worse still, Israel, the US and Europe will seek to blame Palestinians for choosing apartheid over statehood. Apologists will say once again that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

In other words, if Palestinians refuse to disappear themselves in line with the Trump vision, it will be assumed that they consent to Israel’s permanent apartheid rule. Palestinians will have forfeited their right to any kind of state on their historic homeland, ever.

That is the real Trump vision, designed in Israel and soon to be rolled out in Palestine.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Trump’s “Deal of the Century” Will Not Bring Peace: That was the Plan for the US and Israel

Much of Donald Trump’s long-trailed “deal of the century” came as no surprise. Over the past 18 months, Israeli officials had leaked many of its details.

The so-called Vision for Peace unveiled on Tuesday simply confirmed that the US government has publicly adopted the long-running consensus in Israel: that it is entitled to keep permanently the swaths of territory it seized illegally over the past half-century that deny the Palestinians any hope of a state.

The White House has discarded the traditional US pose as an “honest broker” between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinian leaders were not invited to the ceremony, and would not have come had they been. This was a deal designed in Tel Aviv more than in Washington – and its point was to ensure there would be no Palestinian partner.

Importantly for Israel, it will get Washington’s permission to annex all of its illegal settlements, now littered across the West Bank, as well as the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley. Israel will continue to have military control over the entire West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his intention to bring just such an annexation plan before his cabinet as soon as possible. It will doubtless provide the central plank in his efforts to win a hotly contested general election due on March 2.

The Trump deal also approves Israel’s existing annexation of East Jerusalem. The Palestinians will be expected to pretend that a West Bank village outside the city is their capital of “Al Quds”. There are incendiary indications that Israel will be allowed to forcibly divide the Al Aqsa mosque compound to create a prayer space for extremist Jews, as has occurred in Hebron.

Further, the Trump administration appears to be considering giving a green light to the Israeli Right’s long-held hopes of redrawing the current borders in such a way as to transfer potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians currently living in Israel as citizens into the West Bank. That would almost certainly amount to a war crime.

The plan envisages no right of return, and it seems the Arab world will be expected to foot the bill for compensating millions of Palestinian refugees.

A US map handed out on Tuesday showed Palestinian enclaves connected by a warren of bridges and tunnels, including one between the West Bank and Gaza. The only leavening accorded to the Palestinians are US pledges to strengthen their economy. Given the Palestinians’ parlous finances after decades of resource theft by Israel, that is not much of a promise.

All of this has been dressed up as a “realistic two-state solution”, offering the Palestinians nearly 70 per cent of the occupied territories – which in turn comprise 22 per cent of their original homeland. Put another way, the Palestinians are being required to accept a state on 15 per cent of historic Palestine after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.

Like all one-time deals, this patchwork “state” – lacking an army, and where Israel controls its security, borders, coastal waters and airspace – has an expiry date. It needs to be accepted within four years. Otherwise, Israel will have a free hand to start plundering yet more Palestinian territory. But the truth is that neither Israel nor the US expects or wants the Palestinians to play ball.

That is why the plan includes – as well as annexation of the settlements – a host of unrealisable preconditions before what remains of Palestine can be recognised: the Palestinian factions must disarm, with Hamas dismantled; the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas must strip the families of political prisoners of their stipends; and the Palestinian territories must be reinvented as the Middle East’s Switzerland, a flourishing democracy and open society, all while under Israel’s boot.

Instead, the Trump plan kills the charade that the 26-year-old Oslo process aimed for anything other than Palestinian capitulation. It fully aligns the US with Israeli efforts – pursued by all its main political parties over many decades – to lay the groundwork for permanent apartheid in the occupied territories.

Trump invited both Netanyahu, Israel’s caretaker prime minister, and his chief political rival, former general Benny Gantz, for the launch. Both were keen to express their unbridled support.

Between them, they represent four-fifths of Israel’s parliament. The chief battleground in the March election will be which one can claim to be better placed to implement the plan and thereby deal a death blow to Palestinian dreams of statehood.

On the Israeli right, there were voices of dissent. Settler groups described the plan as “far from perfect” – a view almost certainly shared privately by Netanyahu. Israel’s extreme Right objects to any talk of Palestinian statehood, however illusory.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition will happily seize the goodies offered by the Trump administration. Meanwhile the plan’s inevitable rejection by the Palestinian leadership will serve down the road as justification for Israel to grab yet more land.

There are other, more immediate bonuses from the “deal of the century”.

By allowing Israel to keep its ill-gotten gains from its 1967 conquest of Palestinian territories, Washington has officially endorsed one of the modern era’s great colonial aggressions. The US administration has thereby declared open war on the already feeble constraints imposed by international law.

Trump benefits personally, too. This will provide a distraction from his impeachment hearings as well as offering a potent bribe to his Israel-obsessed evangelical base and major funders such as US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in the run-up to a presidential election.

And the US president is coming to the aid of a useful political ally. Netanyahu hopes this boost from the White House will propel his ultra-nationalist coalition into power in March, and cow the Israeli courts as they weigh criminal charges against him.

How he plans to extract personal gains from the Trump plan were evident on Tuesday. He scolded Israel’s attorney-general over the filing of the corruption indictments, claiming a “historic moment” for the state of Israel was being endangered.

Meanwhile, Abbas greeted the plan with “a thousand nos”. Trump has left him completely exposed. Either the PA abandons its security contractor role on behalf of Israel and dissolves itself, or it carries on as before but now explicitly deprived of the illusion that statehood is being pursued.

Abbas will try to cling on, hoping that Trump is ousted in this year’s election and a new US administration reverts to the pretense of advancing the long-expired Oslo peace process. But if Trump wins, the PA’s difficulties will rapidly mount.

No one, least of all the Trump administration, believes that this plan will lead to peace. A more realistic concern is how quickly it will pave the way to greater bloodshed.

• First published in The National

The Israeli Right has Reason to Believe the Stars are Finally Aligned for Annexation

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs all the help he can muster before voters head to the ballot box on March 2 – for the third time in a year. Once again, it seems as though US President Donald Trump intends to ride to his rescue.

Despite Trump’s best efforts, Israel’s two elections last year ended in stalemate. Each time, Netanyahu’s Likud party and its religious, pro-settler coalition partners tied with the secular, yet hawkish right led by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

The pressure on Netanyahu to win this time has intensified. His opponents in the Israeli parliament advanced plans last week to set up a committee to weigh whether or not he should be immune from prosecution in three corruption cases.

If he is denied immunity, as seems likely, the path will be clear for a trial that might make it impossible for him to head the next government whatever the election outcome.

This was the background to intimations from the Trump administration last week that it may finally publish its long-anticipated peace plan.

The White House reportedly delayed the plan’s release over the course of last year as it waited for Netanyahu to secure a majority government to put it into effect.

Leaks suggest the document will bolster Israel’s maximalist demands, scuppering any hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state. The Palestinian leadership severed ties with Washington a while back in protest.

More than any of his recent predecessors, Trump has shown a repeated willingness to meddle in Israeli elections to the benefit of Netanyahu.

Shortly before last April’s vote, Trump declared that the US would formally recognise Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria. The seizure of the 1,800 sq km territory in 1967 remains illegal under international law. And days before the most recent ballot in September, Trump publicly alluded to the possibility of a US-Israeli defence pact.

Now US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have hinted that the US peace plan could be published in the run-up to the March election.

Israeli officials have been saying much the same to local media since an unexpected visit this month by Avi Berkowitz, Trump’s new aide overseeing the peace plan.

This prompted Gantz, the prime minister’s main challenger, to condemn any such move as “blatant interference” in the election.

In fact, until recently, Netanyahu had been reluctant for the so-called “deal of the century” to be published because it would be unlikely to satisfy the settlers’ most extreme demands. He had feared that disappointment might drive some Likud voters further to the right, towards smaller, even more hardline parties.

But Netanyahu is now in such precarious political and legal straits that he appears ready to gamble. Publication of the peace plan could attract some more uncompromising Blue and White voters to his side. They may prefer a seasoned player like Netanyahu to manage White House expectations, rather than a politically inexperienced former army general like Gantz.

Further, the settler parties that could steal votes from Likud as a result of a Trump “peace” initiative are the lynchpin of the coalition Netanyahu needs to maintain his grip on power. His own party may not gain more seats but overall his far-right bloc could prosper, ultimately securing Netanyahu the election and immunity from prosecution.

The key issue on which Netanyahu and Trump appear to agree is on annexing the bulk of the West Bank – territories categorised in the Oslo accords as Area C, the backbone of any future Palestinian state.

Before the September election, Netanyahu announced plans to annex the Jordan Valley, the West Bank’s vast agricultural basin – presumably with Trump’s blessing.

Pompeo offered his apparent backing in November by claiming that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were not necessarily “inconsistent with international law”.

With that as a cue, Netanyahu’s government convened a panel this month to draft an official proposal to annex the Jordan Valley.

Naftali Bennett, the defence minister and a settler leader, revealed last week that Israel was creating seven new “nature reserves” on Palestinian land. Another 12 existing Israeli-seized sites are to be expanded.

Israel would annex Area C “within a short time”, Bennett added.

On Saturday, he also ordered the army to bar from the West Bank prominent Israeli left-wing activists who demonstrate alongside Palestinians against land thefts by the settlers and the army. He equated these non-violent protesters with extremist settler groups that have assaulted Palestinians and torched their olive groves and homes.

Referring to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the Palestinian foreign ministry warned that establishment of the nature reserves would “speed up [Bennett’s] appearance before the ICC as a war criminal.”

Nonetheless, the settler right is growing ever bolder on the annexation issue – as evidenced by Israel’s increasingly fraught ties with neighbouring Jordan.

King Abullah II recently declared relations with Israel at an “all-time low”. Meanwhile, Ephraim Halevy, a former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, blamed Israel for showing “contempt towards Jordan” and creating a crisis that jeopardised the two countries’ 1994 peace treaty, a legacy of the Oslo peace process.

If Israel annexes large swaths of the West Bank, stymying Palestinian statehood, that could unleash waves of unrest among the kingdom’s majority population – Palestinians made refugees by Israel during the 1948 and 1967 wars.

It could also provoke a mass exodus of West Bank Palestinians into Jordan. Senior Jordanian officials recently told a former Israeli journalist, Ori Nir, that they viewed annexation as an “existential threat” to their country.

In November the Jordanian military conducted a drill against an invasion on its western flank – from Israel’s direction – that included the mock blowing up of bridges over the River Jordan.

The Israeli right would be only too delighted to see Abdullah in trouble. It has long harboured a dream of engineering the destruction of Hashemite rule as a way to transform Jordan, instead of the occupied territories, into the locus of a Palestinian state.

According to Israeli analysts, the right perceives itself as at a historic crossroads.

It can annex most of the West Bank and impose an unmistakeable apartheid rule over a restless, rebellious Palestinian population. Or it can realise its Greater Israel ambitions by helping to topple the Hashemite kingdom and encourage the West Bank’s Palestinians to disperse into Jordan.

All Israeli right-wingers need is a nod of approval from the White House. With Netanyahu desperate to pull a rabbit out of his hat, and with an obliging patron installed in Washington, there is reason enough for them to believe that the stars may finally be aligned.

Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank

A seemingly ordinary news story, published in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, on January 7, shed light on a long-forgotten, yet crucial, subject: Israel’s so-called “firing zones” in the West Bank.

“Israel has impounded the only vehicle available to a medical team that provides assistance to 1,500 Palestinians living inside an Israeli military firing zone in the West Bank,” according to Haaretz.

The Palestinian community that was denied its only access to medical services is Masafer Yatta, a tiny Palestinian village located in the South Hebron hills.

Masafer Yatta, which exists in complete and utter isolation from the rest of the occupied West Bank, is located in ‘Area C’, which constitutes the larger territorial chunk, about 60%, of the West Bank. This means that the village, along with many Palestinian towns, villages and small, isolated communities, is under total Israeli military control.

Do not let the confusing logic of the Oslo Accords fool you; all Palestinians, in all parts of the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip, are under Israeli military control as well.

Unfortunately for Masafer Yatta, and those living in ‘Area C’, however, the degree of control is so suffocating that every aspect of Palestinian life – freedom of movement, education, access to clean water, and so on – is controlled by a complex system of Israeli military ordinances that have no regard whatsoever for the well-being of the beleaguered communities.

It is no surprise, then, that Masafer Yatta’s only vehicle, a desperate attempt at fashioning a mobile clinic, was confiscated in the past as well, and was only retrieved after the impoverished residents were forced to pay a fine to Israeli soldiers.

There is no military logic in the world that could rationally justify the barring of medical access to an isolated community, especially when an Occupying Power like Israel is legally obligated under the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure medical access to civilians living in an Occupied Territory.

It is only natural that Masafer Yatta, like all Palestinians in ‘Area C’ and the larger West Bank, feel neglected – and outright betrayed – by the international community as well as their own quisling leadership.

But there is more that makes Masafer Yatta even more unique, qualifying it for the unfortunate designation of being a Bantustan within a Bantustan, as it subsists in a far more complex system of control, compared to the one imposed on black South Africa during the Apartheid regime era.

Soon after Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, it devised a long-term stratagem aimed at the permanent control of the newly-occupied territories. While it designated some areas for the future relocation of its own citizens – who now make up the extremist illegal Jewish settler population in the West Bank – it also set aside large swathes of the Occupied Territories as security and buffer zones.

What is far less known is that, throughout the 1970s, the Israeli military declared roughly 18% of the West Bank as “firing zones”.

These “firing zones” were supposedly meant as training grounds for the Israeli occupation army soldiers – although Palestinians trapped in these regions often report that little or no military training takes place within “firing zones”.

According to the Office for the UN Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Palestine, there are around 5,000 Palestinians, divided among 38 communities that still live, under most dire circumstances, within the so-called “firing zones”.

The 1967 occupation led to a massive wave of ethnic cleansing that saw the forced removal of approximately 300,000 Palestinians from the newly-conquered territory. Many of the vulnerable communities that were ethnically cleansed included Palestinian Bedouins, who continue to pay the price for Israel’s colonial designs in the Jordan Valley, the South Hebron Hills and other parts of occupied Palestine.

This vulnerability is compounded by the fact that the Palestinian Authority (PA) acts with little regards to Palestinians living in ‘Area C’, who are left to withstand and resist Israeli pressures alone, often resorting to Israel’s own unfair judicial system, to win back some of their basic rights.

The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 between the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government, divided the West Bank into three regions: ‘Area A’, theoretically under autonomous Palestinian control and consisting of 17.7% of the overall size of the West Bank; ‘Area B’, 21%, and under shared Israeli-PA control and ‘Area C’, the remainder of the West Bank, and under total Israeli control.

This arrangement was meant to be temporary, set to conclude in 1999 once the “final status negotiations” were concluded and a comprehensive peace accord was signed. Instead, it became the status quo ante.

As unfortunate as the Palestinians living in ‘Area C’ are, those living in the “firing zone” within ‘Area C’ are enduring the most hardship. According to the United Nations, their hardship includes “the confiscation of property, settler violence, harassment by soldiers, access and movement restrictions and/or water scarcity.”

Expectedly, many illegal Jewish settlements sprang up in these “firing zones” over the years, a clear indication that these areas have no military purpose whatsoever, but were meant to provide an Israeli legal justification to confiscate nearly a fifth of the West Bank for future colonial expansion.

Throughout the years, Israel ethnically cleansed all remaining Palestinians in these “firing zones”, leaving behind merely 5,000, who are likely to suffer the same fate should the Israeli occupation continue on the same violent trajectory.

This makes the story of Masafer Yatta a microcosm of the tragic and larger story of all Palestinians. It is also a reflection of the sinister nature of Israeli colonialism and military occupation, where occupied Palestinians lose their land, their water, their freedom of movement and eventually, even the most basic medical care.

These harsh “conditions contribute to a coercive environment that creates pressure on Palestinian communities to leave these areas,” according to the United Nations. In other words, ethnic cleansing, which has been Israel’s strategic goal all along.

Bit by bit Israel aims to squeeze out the Palestinian Christians

Gaza’s minuscule community of Christians will spend this Christmas feeling even more under siege than normal. The Israeli military authorities have denied the vast majority of the enclave’s 1,100 Christians a permit to exit the Palestinian territory for the holiday season.

Unlike previous years, none will be allowed to join relatives in Bethlehem, Jerusalem or Nazareth, or visit their holy places in the West Bank and Israeli cities. Alongside the enclave’s nearly two million Muslims, they will be forced to celebrate Christmas in what is dubbed by locals as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Israel has issued 100 permits for travel abroad, via Jordan, but even those are mostly useless because only one or two members of each family have been approved. No parent is likely to choose to enjoy Christmas away from their children.

As ever, Israeli authorities have justified their decision on security grounds. But no one really believes this tiny, vulnerable minority poses any kind of threat to Israel’s giant military and intelligence-gathering machine.

For decades Israel has pointed to the steady decline of the Palestinian Christian community as proof of a supposed clash of civilisations in which it is on the right side. The gradual exodus of Christians, it argues, is evidence of the oppression they suffer at the hands of the Palestinians’ Muslim majority. Claiming to represent Judeo-Christian values, Israel supposedly stands as their sole protector.

In fact, the fall in Palestinian Christian numbers relates chiefly to other factors.

A lower fertility rate than Muslims means Christians have been shrinking as a proportion of the overall population. More significantly, however, Christians have been fleeing oppression – not by Muslims, but by Israel.

That began with the country’s creation in 1948 and the events Palestinians call their Nakba, or Catastrophe. Christians, who lived historically in Palestine’s main cities, were among the first targets of the new Israeli army’s ethnic cleansing operations.

Since then, those in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza have sought to escape from decades of occupation, while those belonging to a Palestinian minority living as citizens in Israel have tried to break free from the institutionalised discrimination they face in a self-declared Jewish state.

Christians have enjoyed greater success than Muslims in bolting the region because of their historic connections to international churches. The legacy of missionary activity – church-founded schools and hospitals in the region – have offered a gateway to the West and a new life.

The current treatment of Gaza’s Christians hints at the lie in Israel’s claim that it protects Christians. It has denied them permits for two reasons unrelated to security.

First, in violation of its commitments under the Oslo accords, it has been reinforcing the complete physical separation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Christians of Gaza, with family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, are a reminder that all belong to the same Palestinian people, forcibly dispersed by Israel 71 years ago and then imprisoned in different ghettos. Rather than view Gaza and the West Bank as two territories integral to an emerging Palestinian state, Israel has been carefully fashioning a narrative of division that dominates in the West.

Gaza is presented as an abhorrent, Islamic terrorist entity on Israel’s doorstep, which would exterminate its Jewish neighbours given half the chance. The occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, meanwhile, have been depicted as the epicentre of the Jewish people’s national revival.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settler-right are gripped by a fear that their chauvinist, exclusivist approach might be subverted by a Christian counter-narrative. That is, in part, why the West Bank’s Christians and holy sites in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem are as besieged – by concrete walls – as Gaza’s own Christians.

Far from respecting and nurturing Palestinian Christians, Israel has treated them as a grave threat to its self-serving, contorted narrative of a clash of civilisations.

Second, the blanket denial of permits is a reaction to previous years in which a proportion of Christians failed to return to Gaza at the end of the holiday break. They disappeared into the West Bank cities, given shelter by relatives. From there, some left for a new life in the US, Latin America or Europe.

In other words, Christians have taken advantage of the chance to escape Gaza for the West Bank, where Israel’s chokehold is a little looser and its military footprint a little less menacing and lethal.

The family members denied permits this year are being held ransom, an insurance policy ensuring that those few allowed out return.

The reasons why Gaza’s Christians would want to flee are manifold. Like their Muslims neighbours, most are desperate to find release from a blockade entering its 14th year.

We are only days away from the year 2020, which the United Nations warned several years ago would mark the moment when Gaza would become “uninhabitable” – were Israel not to change course.

That prediction was not wrong. Unemployment and poverty are rife; schools overcrowded to bursting point; hospitals lack medicines and their equipment is failing; power supplies are intermittent; rivers of sewage bubble up into the streets after heavy winter rains; and drinking water is so polluted as to be dangerous to human health.

Infrastructure and many homes are in ruins or crumbling after waves of Israeli military attacks.

For Gaza’s unemployed young, Christian and Muslim alike, the future looks bleaker still. Families unable to raise a dowry or build a home have little hope of persuading another family to give their daughter’s hand away. Most of the next generation are unlikely ever to be in a position to support a family of their own.

Back in 2006, an adviser to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon explained that the aim of the blockade – a policy then being formulated – was to engineer the population’s chronic starvation. “The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die,” Dov Weissglass said.

Nearly 14 years later, Gaza’s population is increasingly emaciated – physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. It is the outcome of a policy devised by army generals and politicians to immiserate Palestinians, to inject into their lives a gnawing fear and to force them to focus exclusively on daily survival.

The decision to trap Christians in Gaza this Christmas is only a prelude to a larger, seemingly contradictory longer-term plan.

The choking blockade is designed to sap the people of the will to stay and struggle for what is theirs. Rumours in the media and elsewhere have suggested for some time that both Israel and the US ultimately want to push the Palestinians into the neighbouring Sinai peninsula, if Egypt can be arm-twisted into agreeing.

By keeping all of Gaza’s population under siege this Christmas, Israel hopes that a few Christmases hence it will receive the gift it craves most: the permanent exodus of most of the enclave’s Palestinians, to make them someone else’s problem.

• First published in The National