Ya'alon and soldiers
Defense Minister Ya'alon and the chief of staff address IDF soldiers in 2013. Photo by Ariel Hermoni, Defense Ministry
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With the stroke of a pen, Israel seized control of 984 dunams of territory in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon declared the area “state land.” The terrain would be more aptly defined as contested territory, since it surrounds private Palestinian lands, which will now become enclaves that are inaccessible to the owners.

The area also includes the illegal outpost Netiv Ha’avot, home to Ze’ev Hever, secretary of Amana, an organization that primarily builds illegal outposts in the West Bank. It’s likely that this outpost will be “laundered” as well, and along with the settlements Neve Daniel, Elazar and Alon Shvut, Netiv Ha’avot will see significant expansion.

Ya’alon’s outstretched arm did not stop in Gush Etzion. On the eve of Passover, he allowed Hebron settlers to inhabit the so-called “House of Contention,” in the wake of the High Court of Justice’s rejection of the petition by the home’s former owners and ruling that the sale of the building to a Jewish investor was legal.

Although the defense minister is acting in accordance with his authority his powers are based on a warped legal system. That system was developed over decades as a means to chip away at international law and provide a cover of legality for illegal occupation policies. Otherwise, how could it be that expanding settlements or populating a West Bank Arab city with Jews could be legal, while settlement itself is illegal?

Even the argument that settlement blocs will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any case, so they’re allowed to be expanded, is invalid. As long as there is no agreement on the borders of Israel and Palestine and the status of the settlements, then the status of these blocs is also disputed.

Besides these legal aspects, one cannot ignore the timing of these decisions. It seems that following the declaration that 700 new housing units would be built in Jerusalem – which directly contributed to the breakdown of the talks with the Palestinians – the government has decided to show that it is staunchly opposed to continuing the talks, by taking steps which have already proven effective at blowing up the negotiations.

Ya’alon, who never hid his view that the talks were pointless, is the quintessential representative of this policy. He doesn’t represent the law, but rather the extreme right, which is dragging Israel down a path of conflict with the United States and Europe, and sabotaging Israelis’ hopes for resolving the conflict with the Palestinians. It raises the question of how Ya’alon’s political agenda can possibly be compatible with his responsibility for Israel’s security.