Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he plans to answer the latest round of terror attacks by legalizing thousands of homes in the territories and advancing plans to build 82 new housing units in Ofra and industrial zones next to Avnei Hefetz and Betar Ilit is a renewed admission that the settlements and their expansion are an Israel attack on the Palestinians.
There is good reason these steps will be accompanied by punitive acts, including expediting the demolition of the homes of terrorists’ families, increasing troop numbers in the West Bank, detaining Hamas activists without charges and putting up roadblocks, as well as encircling El Bireh and revoking permits to enter Israel.
“Our response to murderous terrorism must be sharp and clear,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “We will work to continue construction throughout Israel and to strengthen [existing] and new settlements.” Such remarks are nothing new. Netanyahu was not the first prime minister to use the weapon of settlement construction in answer to hostile actions — a “fitting Zionist response,” as it’s called.
But the declarations about these steps, alongside Netanyahu’s saying “They think they can uproot us from our land. They will not succeed,” show that as Netanyahu and his government see it, Israel is in a war for the growth and expansion of the settlements. His remarks imply that the occupied territories are “our land” and the Palestinians will not “uproot us” from it.
Thus the justification for the settlements can no longer be cloaked in the “security” guise. They have become flag bearers of punishment and revenge, so much so that in an absurd way, terrorism has become critical to their expansion and control of the territories. Settlement has become an act of punishment and revenge, creating a frightening equation in which the murder of Israelis is not terrorism but a building stone for the settlements.
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These are not just mere words. Immediately after they were spoken, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit officially approved “Marche ouvert,” the legal concept of property ownership, in which transactions conducted in good faith under certain conditions are considered valid — even if they have certain legal faults, such as in the case of the sale of stolen goods.
This is expected to lead to the legalization of some 2,000 housing units in the West Bank, based on the dubious claim that “a sale conducted in good faith between the authority in charge of government property in the territories and another person, for any property the authority thought at the time of the sale was government property” is valid, even if the state did not in fact own the land.
In addition, on Sunday the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is slated to discuss a bill sponsored by MK Bezalel Smotrich that would guarantee services to and prevent the demolition of communities whose status has not been formalized, until a panel has decided on their status.
It is hard to avoid the worrying conclusion that the government has made strengthening and expanding the settlements its main goal, in preparation for annexing the territories.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.