By Ramona Wadi
Israel’s main bone of contention with the International Criminal Court’s possible investigation into war crimes in occupied Palestine is about settlement expansion. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration in November 2019 which basically insisted that Israeli settlements are not illegal, affirmed US support for annexation of the occupied West Bank. That move was mentioned tentatively by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in June last year.
In a pre-recorded statement transmitted by video link during the Kohelet Forum in Jerusalem, Pompeo reiterated that the US shift in policy regarding Israel’s settlement enterprise is a means of “advancing the cause of peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.” His words were echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he vowed further expansion in defiance of the ICC’s designation of settlements as a war crime which, indeed, they are according to international law.
Likewise, Likud MK Nir Barakat revealed plans for two million settlers to occupy Palestinian territory within 50 years. “This is a commitment which requires that we lay the framework now to make that possible and this is an investment which will also benefit the Palestinian people,” Barakat claimed, while urging the US to reveal details of the so-called “Deal of the Century” without further delay.
Netanyahu is also using the US stance on settlement expansion as a countermeasure to the ICC’s plan to investigate Israel (and Palestinians, it must be said) for war crimes. Deeming the US support for settlements “an appropriate response”, Netanyahu is clearly aiming at politicizing a possible investigation which still has to clear several bureaucratic hurdles. Furthermore, the ICC’s delays in arriving at a conclusion which stipulates that Israel has committed war crimes decreases in impact when juxtaposed against the US-Israeli strategy under the Trump administration to facilitate the colonization plan often referred to as “Greater Israel”.
This strategy was explained by Friedman during the Kohelet Forum when he referred to having approached the three issues that Israel has been vying for politically: the status of Jerusalem, the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and the occupied West Bank. “We have approached them in ascending order of complexity,” Friedman clarified, once again highlighting the discrepancy between Israel’s planning on one hand, and the Palestinian Authority’s response on the other. The PA has fallen behind by following the international trend of isolating each Israeli gain as a separate violation.
With the plan determined by the US, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has little standing in his way to implement the annexation of more Palestinian land. “The State of Israel’s policy is that the land in Area C belongs to [Israel],” he stated at the Forum.
Settlement expansion is in itself part of the ongoing ethnic cleansing of a colonized population to accommodate the state narrative and its colonial settler population. The announcement of an additional 2,000 settler dwellings in the occupied West Bank must not only be seen as an affront to the ICC statement but also as a continuation of what Israel started prior to the international community’s designation of which settlements violate international law. Blaming America’s overt steps for the current belligerence barely scrapes the surface of what the UN started when it approved the Zionist colonial project in Palestine. More war crimes are on the way in Israel’s plan for the immediate future.