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Expansion and Mass Eviction: Israel ‘Takes Advantage’ of Trump’s Remaining Days in Office

In a few words, a close associate of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu,
summed up the logic behind the ongoing frenzy to expand illegal Jewish settlements
in Israel.

“These days are an irreplaceable opportunity to establish our hold on
the Land of Israel, and I’m sure that our friend, President (Donald) Trump and
Prime Minister Netanyahu will be able to take advantage,” Miki Zohar, a
member of the Likud Party was quoted
in the Christian Science Monitor. 

By “these days”, Zohar was referring to the remaining few weeks of
Trump’s term in office. The US President was
trounced
by his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, in the presidential elections
held on November 3. 

Trump’s defeat
ignited
fears in Tel Aviv, and heated debates in the Israeli Knesset that
the new US administration might challenge Israel’s unhindered settlement expansion
policies.

Indeed, not only was Israel allowed to expand old settlements and build new
ones throughout Trump’s term, but was actually encouraged by US officials to
do so with a great sense of urgency. 

US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is an ardent supporter of rapid expansion
and was handpicked for his role, not because of his diplomatic experience – he has none – but to help facilitate US support for Israel’s colonial expansion.
In doing so, the US violated international consensus on the issue, and reversed
earlier US positions that perceived Israel’s illegal settlements as “obstacles
to peace”. 

Friedman was entrusted with communicating the ominous new American agenda regarding
Israel’s illegal action in the occupied Palestinian territories and also in
the Syrian Golan Heights. In June 2019, Friedman, rather clumsily, articulated
a new American position on the illegal Jewish settlements when he said in an
interview
with the New York Times that “Israel has the right
to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” 

The green light to Netanyahu was translated, in January 2020, into an
announcement
by Israel that it intended to formally annex nearly a third
of the West Bank within a few months. 

The illegal annexation was
set
to take place on July 1. Just prior to that date, Friedman resurfaced,
this time with a less coded message, that Netanyahu’s annexation had the full
backing of the US government. He
told
the Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom, that Washington was preparing
to acknowledge the Israeli move to apply sovereignty in “Judea and Samaria”,
using the biblical reference to the West Bank. 

Annexation did not
materialize
as grandly as expected. Instead, the Netanyahu government opted
to cement its de facto annexation of Palestinian land by announcing plans to
build more settlements, barring Palestinian farmers from reaching their land
and accelerating the policy of home demolition. 

Months before Biden became the US president-elect, Israel seemed to be preparing
for the possibility that the Trump administration might not be re-elected. Certainly,
while a Biden presidency is bound to remain unconditionally supportive of Israel,
the new administration is likely to return to old policies pertaining to the
“peace process” and the two-State solution. Netanyahu has long been averse to
such rhetoric as, in his view, such unnecessary delays will cost Israel precious
time that could be invested in building yet more settlements. Politically, the
mere discussion of a return to negotiations could, potentially, splinter Israel’s
powerful, yet fractious, pro-settlement right-wing alliance. 

Immediately it was clear that Trump had lost the race, Netanyahu begrudgingly
congratulated
Biden. Even the Israeli leader’s belated acknowledgment of
Trump’s defeat did not spare him the political ambush that awaited him. Many
Knesset members attacked Netanyahu for losing Israel’s bipartisan support in
Washington by allying himself with the Republican Party and the Trump administration. 

Leading the charge was Israel’s opposition leader from Yesh Atid-Telem, Yair
Lapid, who had already
criticized
the Prime Minister’s “Republican First” approach to
US politics. His views were shared by many Israelis in the Knesset and media. 

Reversing course in Trump’s last weeks in office is not an easy choice, especially
as the Trump administration remains committed to help Israel achieve its objectives
to the very end. 

On November 19, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo,
became
the first top US official to visit an illegal Jewish settlement in
the occupied West Bank. During his visit to a winery in the Psagot settlement,
Pompeo gave Netanyahu yet more good news. He announced that products from illegal
Jewish settlements could now be
labeled
“Made in Israel”, and that the global Boycott, Divestment
and Sanctions (BDS) movement would be
declared
“anti-Semitic” by the US State Department. 

The latter announcement will give Israel the legal capital required to prosecute
and silence any US civil society opposition to Israel’s illegal occupation.
Israel is counting on the fact that Biden is unlikely to dare contest or reverse
such policies due to the sensitivity of the subject of anti-Semitism – real
or alleged – in US politics. 

The same rationale applies to the settlement building frenzy throughout occupied
East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 

On November 20, Israeli authorities
announced
that 80 Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes
in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. These homes would, in
turn, be handed over to illegal Israeli Jewish settlers.

The news of the mass eviction came only a few days after the government’s announcements
that the illegal settlements of
Givat Hamatos
and
Ramat Shlomo
, both located in East Jerusalem, are set for major expansion.

The massive development in Givat Hamatos,
according to
the Israeli group “Peace Now”, “will severely hamper the
prospect of a two-State solution because it will ultimately block the possibility
of territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem” and major urban centers
in the West Bank.

The announcements are strategically timed, as they carry an unmistakable political
message that Israel does not intend to reverse its settlement policies, regardless
of who resides in the White House. 

The coming weeks are likely to witness even more coordinated Israeli-US moves,
where the Trump administration will seek to fulfill Netanyahu’s political wish
list, leaving Biden with little political margin to maneuver, thus denying his
government the self-proclaimed, undeserved title of the “honest peace broker”.   

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle.
He is the author of five books. His latest is
These
Chains Will Be Broken
: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli
Prisons (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow
at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle
East Center (AMEC). His website is

www.ramzybaroud.net
.

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