Benyamin Netanyahu has spoiled Abu Mazen’s party. On Wednesday evening, the Palestinian president left the summit in Jordan with a smile in his face, convinced that his position was stronger.
He had just gotten clear support from the Arab League to the two-state solution and sharp opposition to transferring the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as Donald Trump proposed during his campaign. He had also prevented amendments to the plan adopted in Beirut in 2002 — that peace between Arabs and Israel could only be achieved with the withdrawal of Israel from all the territories occupied in 1967 — meant to make it more palatable to the Israeli government. He got what he hoped to present next month at the White House, with the support of countries — like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan — that the United States considers its main Arab allies.
But on Thursday, Netanyahu reminded him that statements at the Arab summit are just ink on paper while he, the strongest party, controls the facts on the ground. “I had promised that I would found a new (colonial) settlement,” he said. “I had made this commitment last December, and I keep it now.”
With these few words, the Israeli prime minister announced the construction of a new Jewish settlement in the West Bank, where the inhabitants of the Amona outpost, who were evacuated in January, will live. In the last 25 years, Israel has dramatically expanded the existing settlements — which are illegal under international law — in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but it has not built a new colony. Thursday night, there were expectations of additional information at the end of the cabinet meeting. There were rumors that the new settlement will be built near Maale Adumim, the largest Jewish settlement.
“President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] had several reasons to be satisfied,” said the Palestinian analyst and university professor Ghassan al Khatib. “He wanted and he actually got strong political support at the summit in Jordan, and the Palestinian issue is back on top of the diplomatic Arabic agenda.” Netanyahu’s announcement “brought Abu Mazen back to the reality of a situation where the statements of the Arab countries do not matter for Israel. Especially in reference to the Arab peace plan that Netanyahu has no intention of adopting, just like his predecessors, despite the fact it offers Israel the opportunity to reach a regional peace agreement.”
The announcement of the new colony could mean that the U.S. administration has given its green light to the project. A few days ago, Netanyahu spoke of “significant progress” in negotiations with the United States and that the two countries are now near an agreement that will allow Israel to continue to build homes in the West Bank, in agreement with the administration.
Yet the radical right wing, in particular the messianic groups, views this approval with suspicion. The leaders of the settlers and the most nationalistic factions fear that the deal with Trump will limit the construction of new homes in the major settlement blocs and push to the edge those Jewish settlements built in remote areas or close to Palestinian towns.
An interesting analysis published this week in The Jerusalem Post explained that such an agreement would split the colonies into two classes. Basically, it would give some sort of recognition to settlements where the new houses will be built, but those where development programs will not be implemented will be seen as lawless, even in the eyes of the ally U.S. administration. Thus, it may open the way for a possible evacuation of the second group of colonies, in the event of an agreement with the Palestinians at a future negotiating table.
Netanyahu’s announcement came as thousands of Palestinians, both in Israel and the Occupied Territories, commemorated the 41st anniversary of Earth Day with demonstrations and other initiatives. This recalls the six victims shot by the police when they fired against demonstrators in several villages in Galilee on March 30, 1976, during protests against the confiscation of Arab land. These demonstrations took place in the territories occupied in 1967 and in the areas with an Arab majority in Israel.
The main rally was held in the village of Deir Hanna in Galilee. Other ceremonies were held in Taiba, Kufr Kanna, Sakhnin and Arrabah, where homage was paid on the graves of those victims from 41 years ago. The inhabitants of the Bedouin village of Umm al Hiran in the Negev, demolished several times by the Israeli authorities that considers it “illegal,” planted trees and rebuilt some of the recently destroyed houses. Demonstrations and marches were also held in the West Bank and Gaza.
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