A settlement in the West Bank has been forcibly evacuated. Thousands of new ones are going to be built. They will provide an obstacle to a two-state solution, says Israeli peace activist Anat Ben Nun.
DW: The Israeli government has unveiled plans for 3,000 new homes in other West Bank settlements. What can you tell us about the area?
Anat Ben Nun: Some of these settlements are actually deep in the West Bank. These are areas that will never be a part of Israel in the framework of an agreement. Places like Shilo or Nokdim, which is where Defense Minister Lieberman resides. Some other settlements here are closer to the green line and others are within what might be considered as the blocks. But they are in fact some of the most problematic settlements because they are exactly the ones that are being negotiated over and so they could hurt future negotiations a great deal.
What consequences will this have for Palestinians living in the affected areas?
Palestinians are highly affected by the presence of settlements. Their rights to freedom of movement and access to land are constantly being violated. The mere presence of all settlements and the expansion of settlements throughout the West Bank, especially when the Palestinians don't get any plans approved in area C, creates a great frustration among the Palestinian population.
What does that mean specifically?
Palestinians for instance can not enter settlements and can not enter the area surrounding the settlements unless they have a special permit, which most of them do not. Some of the private Palestinian lands are actually within the municipal boundaries of specific settlements. So access to this land is very limited to the Palestinian land owners.
Are they trapped almost?
It's quite complicated and I don't want to speak specifically of this land because it takes a while from when a plan is promoted until we actually see construction on the ground. But there are certain Palestinians who are not trapped but whose right of freedom of movement has been very limited. They have to use special gates and roads to be able to connect to the rest of the West Bank. This is a big problem because when we're looking at a future Palestinian state, it is very important that this state is viable and contiguous. That is, that it has has territorial contiguity that allows for the development of an economy, for the development of Palestinian towns and villages. This is a basic part of any state.
As of now the possibility for a viable Palestinian state still exists. I think that the expansion of settlements questions this and makes a future solution much more difficult.
Generally speaking: What is the current situation of Palestinians living near Jewish settlements - in terms of checkpoints and aggression towards them by settlers and the IDF
It is not happening everywhere but in certain areas, especially where more radical settlers live, we do see violent attacks either on property, olive trees or on Palestinians. We have seen less of that in the past year due to more law enforcement by the Israelis following what happened last year with the arson attack and the killing of a family. These cases are seeing more prosecutions.
You just mentioned radical settlers. Do you consider those living in the outpost of Amona radicals?
Yes. They settled on land they knew was private Palestinian land and did so illegally without any governmental approval. By doing so, they dragged the government and the entire Israeli public after them.
Why do settlers like those in Amona think that they have a right to be there?
I can not speak on their behalf but I know that there are certain individuals that think that the entire land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea is God-given. They think that Israel is entitled to the entire land. But among some Palestinians there is also the same sentiment of historical Palestine and the entire land belonging to the Palestinians. Clearly what we need to get to is some kind of settlement.
What role does the new US President Donald Trump play? Since he assumed office, the Israeli government has approved the construction of seveal new settlements. And Trump has said nothing.
I think that the Trump administration's settlement policy is yet to be seen. The settlers that are celebrating might be celebrating a bit too early. We have to wait and see what Trump's policy will be. In the meantime what we see is Netanyahu taking advantage of the change of administration, of the focus of President Trump on other issues. So he is taking advantage on that to advance constructions, satisfy the settler lobby and 'compensate' them for the evacuation of 45 structures that were built on illegal Palestinian land. Netanyahu is managing to implement plans that he had to postpone during the Obama administration.
I think what Netanyahu is trying to do now is divert public attention away from his ongoing corruption allegations. By advancing housing units in the settlement and shifting the public debate to the situation in the West Bank, he is shifting attention away from these issues and worrying about his own survival.
With everything that we see right now: Is there any hope for a two-state solution in the near future?
We at Peace Now do see hope and that the possibility of a two-state solution still exists on the ground, even after all these years of right-wing governments. Also there is still a majority supporting a two-state solution among the Israeli public despite everything that has happened in the last few years.
Anat Ben Nun is the Director of External Relations for Peace Now. Peace Now is the oldest peace movement currently active in Israel. It works to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution on the ground and promote it within the Israeli public. It believes this is the only possible solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and sees settlements as the largest obstacle for a two-state solution. Much of its work focuses on monitoring, exposing and preventing dangerous settlement developments.