On Wednesday, Israel approved the construction of another 2,166 settlement homes in the occupied West Bank. Meanwhile, despite the pandemic, a record number of Palestinian homes and businesses have been demolished in the West Bank and East Jerusalem this year. And war games with the US continue, the US sending a squadron of F-35s to practice joint military operations with their Israeli counterparts.
Notwithstanding the relatively recent signing of normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is proceeding with his plan to realize a de facto annexation of additional portions of the West Bank.
During their efforts to convince their subjects of the merits of ‘normalization’ of relations with Israel, the agreements were touted by UAE and Bahraini leaders as being based on the premise that new settlements would be halted.
Shortly thereafter, senior US and Israeli officials suggested that there were no binding commitments to that effect.
The two normalization agreements broke with years of Arab League policy on the Israeli occupation, which made its resolution a precondition for establishing official ties with Israel.
Israel reportedly agreed to delay its settlement expansion plans during the negotiations preceding the normalisation deal with the UAE, something Emirati officials reiterated following widespread Arab and Muslim criticism of the deal.
However, Netanyahu later said the agreement did not nullify the provisions of the Trump administration’s controversial “deal of the century” plan.
“According to the American plan, Israel will win 30 percent of Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank) – ten times what it was in other plans – without displacing any settlement and territories, which are necessary for Israel’s security. This is the American plan. It has not changed,” Netanyahu told newspaper Israel HaYom in August.
It is now also clear that the Israeli leadership has no intention of ending the further expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.
More than 450,000 Israelis currently live in the illegal settlements that have been constructed in the occupied West Bank, which is inhabited by 2.7 million Palestinians.
According to official documents reviewed by AFP, 2,166 new homes in settlements across the West Bank were approved on Wednesday, after an eight-month suspension of additional settlement expansion approvals.
The latest plans, which anticipate the construction of more than 4,000 new homes in occupied Palestinian territories, are currently on the agenda of the planning committee of Israel’s Civil Administration, the military body which oversees civil affairs in the occupied West Bank.
Peace Now, an Israeli NGO, denounced the settlement approval. “Netanyahu is moving ahead at full steam toward solidifying the de facto annexation of the West Bank,” the organization said in a statement.
Among settlements where additional construction has been approved is Har Gilo, located in the southern West Bank between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
It currently has a population of about 1,600, and the construction of 560 new homes was approved on Wednesday.
Peace Now said that several ‘wildcat’ settlements, built without official Israeli government authorisation, are also being approved retroactively.
Peace Now also noted that the plans were approved by Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party who serves as defence minister in the coalition government with Likud.
The organization added that, with Gantz’s active participation in the scheme, “Israel will be signalling to the world its bipartisan support for the end to the concept of a two-state solution and a Palestinian state.” LINK
Settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, a status that was confirmed categorically by UN Security Council Resolution 2334 adopted in 2016.
The resolution reiterates that the construction of settlements by Israel in all occupied Palestinian territories constitutes a ‘flagrant violation’ of international law and has no legal validity. The resolution also demanded that Israel halt such activity and comply with its obligations as an occupying power in accordance with the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The accelerated construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land is accompanied by an equally or perhaps even more devastating development for the Palestinians, the demolition of existing Palestinian homes, businesses and farms.
In late August, a detailed examination by the Times of Israel found that, notwithstanding the eight-month freeze on the approval of new settlements and the coronavirus pandemic, Israel has demolished a record number of Palestinian homes and businesses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem this year.
Despite pandemic, East Jerusalem on track for record number of home demolitions
As the health situation in city’s east grows worse, the municipality has resumed tearing down homes, leaving some out on the streets during economic crisis caused by virus.
It was in early August, as a new wave of coronavirus infections swept Jerusalem, that Silwan resident Wael Tahan finally got the letter he had always feared: his family’s home of nearly 30 years was set to be demolished by Israeli authorities, who said that it had been built illegally.
“We tried everything we could to make it legal. We did everything the municipality said, brought an engineer, worked with lawyers, we went to the courts,” Tahan told The Times of Israel.
On August 8, the bulldozers arrived and carried out their orders, rendering 25 members of Tahan’s extended family suddenly homeless…
Israeli authorities have significantly accelerated the number of home demolitions in East Jerusalem this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis. Around 89 residential units have been demolished since the beginning of 2020, compared with 109 through all of last year. In the first three weeks of August alone, 24 homes were demolished, according to Ir Amim, a nonprofit that focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem. LINK
Meanwhile, in the skies, the US and Israeli air forces have conducted training exercises involving both countries’ F-35 fighter jets earlier this week.
As part of the third joint training exercise for the two nations’ advanced ‘fifth-generation’ aircraft – dubbed ‘Enduring Lightning III’ – pilots trained on conducting airstrikes in a hostile environment, with simulated adversaries in the air and on the ground.
The US Air Forces Central Command revealed some details of the exercises in a statement on Wednesday.
They involved F-35As from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing’s 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron – located at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates – and Israel’s F-35I fighter from their 116th Squadron.
The 340th Expeditionary Air Refuelling Squadron at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and the 908th Expeditionary Air Refuelling Squadron at Al Dhafra also provided aerial refuelling support with a KC-10 Extender and KC-135 Stratotanker.
Israel’s 122nd Squadron provided air traffic control support with its Nachshon aircraft, and its 115th Squadron provided F-16I fighters to serve as simulated adversary forces. LINK
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