The Middle East Channel

Israel’s latest population transfer scheme

"A new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years. When the order comes into effect, tens of thousands of Palestinians will automatically become criminal ...

AFP/Getty images
AFP/Getty images

"A new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years. When the order comes into effect, tens of thousands of Palestinians will automatically become criminal offenders liable to be severely punished."

This concise summary by Israeli reporter Amira Hass describes the latest round in increasingly dangerous provocations by the Israeli government in its attempt to ensure Israeli control over the occupied Palestinian territory. And for the Palestinians, it clearly sets out the potentially fatal weakness of American government efforts to represent Palestinian interests in any meaningful way. (For an excellent fact sheet on the new regulation, also see Yousef Munayyer’s analysis today.)

First, what does the military order really mean? In effect, it confirms that all Jews who are in the Occupied Territory (but which is labeled as "Judea and Samaria" on Israeli government maps) are subject to Israeli domestic legal jurisdiction. For purposes of Israeli law, there is no difference between an Israeli settler living in the middle of Hebron and one who is living in Tel Aviv, just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps trying to remind President Barack Obama. 

But this order takes this de facto annexation one step further. Now those who are not Jewish who reside in the West Bank are effectively there illegally according to Israeli military regulations. The rule requires Palestinians to hold a "valid permit", but the rule does not define what these permits are, who would issue them, or where they would come from.

Israeli human rights groups have already filed complaints before the Israeli High Court to challenge the regulation. The New York Times cites Israeli human rights lawyer Elad Cahana as noting that "the concern was less of a mass expulsion than of the military deporting those officially registered as residents of Gaza, as well as Palestinians or their spouses who moved to the West Bank from abroad."

Palestinians are rightly in a panic over the new regulation. Fatah and Hamas have been desperately trying to contain any new outbreak of violence against Israeli provocations, convinced that Israel may seek a new round of violence to deflect American pressure for a two-state solution. Hamas in the last week has detained members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Fatah in the Gaza Strip to force their compliance with the cease-fire. Today’s clashes between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza which have left two Palestinians dead are a reflection of just how difficult maintaining a cease-fire in these conditions will be.

Fatah has attempted to deflect Palestinian outrage into public campaigns to assert Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and boycotts of settler products. And yet, the only real strategy to confront this latest in a series of provocations is to rely on international support to pressure Israel to back off.

There are two trends of thought on why the Israeli government has accelerated its integration of the West Bank into Israel. The first is that the Likud government is attempting to "train" the American President in much the same way as it deals with Arab leaders. When asked to do something it doesn’t want to do, Israel will do the opposite of what it’s asked. Ultimately, it assumes that it will stop being asked to do things. As former US Secretary of State Jim Baker noted in 1991 when dealing with the Likud leadership in Israel at that time, "Every time I have gone to Israel in connection with the peace process…I have been met with an announcement of new settlement activities. It substantially weakens our hand in trying to bring about a peace process."

In fact, a cursory look over the last year of President Obama’s administration shows the pattern has been accelerated with various types of provocations in response to several US visits or demands increasing qualitatively and quantitatively.

The following table links the Foundation for Middle East Peace’s Settlement Report and other news events with major US diplomatic visits with Israeli leaders. It reveals a clear pattern consistent with Baker’s observation almost twenty years ago.


Of course, there is another possible explanation for these ever increasing jabs at a two-state solution, which is that Israel’s settlement machine has now so infiltrated the various branches of Israeli government that Israeli prime ministers are just figureheads, powerless to stop their relentless entrenchment of Jewish dominance over Arabs in the territory occupied in 1967. In that sense, the "machine" of colonization has now become so powerful that it is a state within a state, able to operate with impunity and with no consequence either from the Israeli government or from international actors including the United States. 

Ironically, in light of his history as father of the settlement movement, Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave credence to this argument when he assigned Israeli lawyer Talia Sasson to investigate the legal status of settlement "outposts". What she found was that settlements were being regularly constructed in violation of Israeli law (let alone international law), supported by various civilian ministries as well as the Israeli Defense Forces, and then subsequently being accepted.

Regardless of which theory is correct–whether Likud is trying to "train" the United States or whether the settler state within a state in Israel is trying to finally kill the idea of a Palestinian state–profoundly important questions are raised for both the Palestinian and US leaderships.

What to do in response?

This week, Palestinian lead negotiator Saeb Erekat issued a press release in protest, calling on the international community to intervene.

But the United States really has no address to send its letter of complaint. Either the Israeli prime minister is the leader of the efforts to provoke a new round of violence or he is simply the figurehead for a more insidious machine operating within Israeli society, determined to oppose the United States while continuing to demand our unconditional support. 

Meanwhile, Special Envoy George Mitchell continues to demand that "proximity talks" between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu start. But without an answer to how, when, and if the United States will separate itself from the settler establishment in Israel and their supporters in the US political establishment, proximity talks are the least of America’s worries.

Amjad Atallah directs the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation and is editor of the Middle East Channel.

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