Averting International Law: Israel’s Attempt to Expand


The recent headline of Israeli police forcefully evicting forty Jewish families from an ‘illegal’ Israeli settlement on the Palestinian territory of Amona in early February propelled the notion that the Israeli government may now be taking international law seriously by disbanding settlements in the West Bank. But has Israeli policy towards settlements in Palestine really changed? Will Israel’s plan to legalize 4,000 ‘illegal’ houses in the West Bank come to a halt— and if not how will such inflammatory behavior affect peace talks with Palestinian leaders?

Distinguishing Israel’s true intentions is vital to the situation as peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine remain vulnerable. The conflict, which began with the creation of the Israeli state in the late 1940s, has continued to result in mass displacement of Palestinians, numerous regional wars, and tensions that can be traced to domestic politics in many external countries- such as the US- which held and still hold major stakes in the survival of Israel.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem

In accordance with the UN’s criteria of a Palestinian refugee (those who were living in Palestine between 1946-1948 and lost their homes and means of livelihood, or the descendants of Palestinian male refugees) there are currently about five million refugees, and over one third of them live in cramped, impoverished United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) refugee camps located throughout the region, such as in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Syria. Additionally, during the first Intifada from 1987 up until the Oslo Accords in 1993, over 1000 Palestinians and 90 Israelis died, according to B’Tselem. In other words, history shows that the stakes are high and a step back in negotiations could result in hefty costs.

Yet other states, many of which are part of the UNSC, criticize Israel for the persistent seizure of Palestinian territory, which according to the 1949 Geneva Convention is deemed illegal. However, international pressures urging a two-state solution have failed to produce any permanent results, and have clearly failed to keep Israel from breaking prior deals of not intervening in private Palestinian territory. Last December the UNSC voted 14-0 with the US abstaining to pass resolution 2334 declaring all Israeli settlements established in Palestinian territory since 1967- including the West Bank and East Jerusalsem- illegal and urging Palestinians and Israelis to remain calm in the mean time in order to build trust. For example, the council promotes the avoidance of violent rhetoric while encouraging regional multi-lateral collaboration to combat terrorism. Can the opposing sides uphold calm when the question remains of if Israel truly intends to adhere to international law and halt its agenda of expanding settlements?

Already, there are 131 official settlements and a total of around 400,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. And while exact numbers remain questionable, there are at least dozens more major unofficial settlements. Israel financially supports the official settlements, and their wealth is blatant. Take for instance Karnei Shomron, a Jewish Settlement with a population of 35,000 located in the West Bank and described as “a sprawling regional center” that has a North American vibe. Found on the NBM website, Karnei Shomron boasts of great schools, restaurants, markets, healthcare centers, and fitness facilities, and an overall high standard of living, especially when compared to the surrouunding Palestinian territories found within the West Bank.

Yet the distinction between the official and unofficial-or illegal- settlements in the eyes of Israeli leadership and the Supreme Court seems to be fuzzy; although Israel declares settlements built on private Palestinian property illegal in accordance with international law, many of the settlements were initially built with government support and or have received government services, such as playgrounds, rubbish collection and schools.

In addition to Israel’s lax attitude towards enforcing prior legalities, Israel has the backing of arguably the world’s most powerful country: the US. Even before to the recent change in administration, the US was giving as much as $3.1 billion in aid to Israel, compared to the $441 million given to Palestine. For the first time in December, the US abstained from vetoing a UNSC resolution reprimanding Israel, much to the frustration of Netanyahu, and President Trump. Over twitter, Trump voiced his opinion regarding the resolution: “The big loss yesterday for Israeli in the United Nations…Too bad, but we will get it done anyway”. Under Trump’s administration, US support of Israel is predicted to increase, especially as Trump’s foreign advisor- his son in law Mr. Kushner- has strong ties to Israel.

With this in mind, why then did the Israeli Supreme Court order the eviction the 40 families from the ‘illegal’ settlement, as mentioned above? It is most likely only a front, a façade of an attempt to take the international law seriously as to not get taken to court just yet. Given the recent developments in the US, it is not likely that Israel will anytime soon begin the removal of Israelis from the West Bank, especially not when the plurality of citizens approve of existing settlements within Palestinian territory. According to the June 2016 Peace Index, 46% of Israelis do not support withdrawing from settlements even if it meant potential peace with Palestine, while 43% do support such a withdrawal if it were to help peace negotiations. Meanwhile, many Israelis feel emboldened with the US’ recent switch in administration and the resulting prospect that President Trump will ensure the expansion of a Jewish presence in the West Bank; as Shilo Adler– a representative of Jewish Settlers in the West bank- puts it, “after eight years of Obama, who didn’t let us build, now we’ll say, ‘We will build and build’”.

Although the UNSC resolution did call for the abstention of inflammatory rhetoric, many- such as Adler- are rebelling. While the UN fails to successfully get Israel to abide by international law, it is even more far-reaching for the UN to make the high demand of civilians to remain calm when the conflict is so complicated and ingrained in daily life. For instance, soon after Israel announced its mission to extend settlements in the West Bank in June, clashes erupted in the streets; one Palestinian died from tear gas used by Israeli troops, while another Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli police, all following the stabbing of an Israeli girl by a Palestinian. Without new measures to address the violence and inflammatory rhetoric from both civilians and security personnel, how can any organization or state begin to ensure calm?

Alternative approaches to such goals need to be implemented. Perhaps an effort to try to open public engagement could provide insight into new ways of addressing peace negotiations. Although radical in the eyes of many, recent developments of innovative participatory democratic events- such as participatory budgeting, public forums, and mini publics- which involve a diverse group of citizens, have been used to help legitimately and efficiently address major issues. For example, the Public Conversations Project works to open up discussion between individuals and groups who have opposing political or ideological stance. The project has begun to collaborate with Israeli and Palestinian citizens to encourage conversation and deliberation between them in order to foster respect and negotiations. Since Israel will likely further expand into Palestinian territory without open discussions with Palestinian leaders, a look into some alternative and nuanced negotiating practices will be useful to address the complicated and dangerous crises occurring in the West Bank.

Keiko Ivinson

Keiko Ivinson

Keiko Ivinson is an undergraduate student at McGill University pursuing an honours degree in Political Science and a minor in European Cultural Studies. She spent most of her life in Boston, but has roots in the UK and Canada. Although interested in many aspects of politics, Keiko is specifically intrigued by international relations, diplomacy, humanitarian interventions, and international organizations. Above all, she is fascinated in how international ties and dealings affect the citizens of the world, and how best to achieve non-violent, ethical outcomes.
Keiko Ivinson