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The West Bank: When push comes to take 

Israeli leaders and settlers stifle the peace process by asserting their "right to all parts" of the West Bank.

Keiron Monks     Al Jazeera

29 May 2011

Leaders of the Israeli settlement movement have attempted to take over much of Arab East Jerusalem and desire the full annexation of the entire occupied West Bank [Getty]

On the rare occasion that the Israeli army dismantles an illegal Israeli-built outpost in the West Bank, Palestinians in nearby villages go into lockdown. Normally within a day, there is retaliation from the settlers. Not against the soldiers who demolished their "property", but against the perceived beneficiaries. Violence against the nearest Palestinian community has become a routine reaction - against property and people - in what have become known as "price-tag" actions.

Now that Palestinian resistance is growing, and their government has had the temerity to pursue their interests without Israeli approval, history suggests we will see a backlash. These actions, aimed at securing Palestinians' historic rights, can cost Israel far more than any outpost. The price-tag is on a different scale.

The Shomron Council of settlers have taken the lead in determining the bill: no less than the total annexation of Palestine. In an open letter to the UN, the Council demand recognition of the Occupied Territories as "lands belonging eternally, legally and unambiguously to the Jewish People". The claim is based on the "promise of the Almighty" as enshrined in the Talmud, and Article 80 of the UN Charter which they assert protects "Jewish legal rights to the entire Land of Israel".

Settler logic and the Oslo Accords

It is a lie of breathtaking audacity. Article 80 contains absolutely no reference to the alleged rights of the Jewish people. It actually concerns the guarantee of rights for states or people in "trusteeship agreements", which can only abstractly bear any relation to the conflict at all. Genuine UN resolutions 181 (of the General Assembly) and 242 (of the Security Council), which call for Palestinian statehood and sovereignty, are overlooked. 

The letter demands that the Palestinian population of the "Land of Israel" are relocated to Jordan, where they can "live in peace and tranquillity among people of their own flesh and blood". Presumably, this would be a forced, mass transfer similar to the Nakba of 1948.

Settler logic is becoming mainstream. Likud Party Knesset Member Danny Danon is preparing a bill proposing the annexation of the West Bank. "A Palestinian declaration of statehood would officially bury the Oslo Accords," he told the Jerusalem Post. "If [the Palestinians declare a state], I'm going to suggest to my government to extend our sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and over the highly populated blocs we have in Judea and Samaria, just to start with." 

His proposal is supported by many of his fellow ministers, who will argue for it at a specially convened Knesset event next month. This will determine whether or not the proposal will be brought to a vote.

The message has already arrived at the very top. Before Prime Minister Netanyahu arrived in Washington last week, he was approached by a group of Israel's most influential religious leaders insisting that he assert "the historic right to all parts of our country".

Netanyahu responded with arguably his most uncompromising public address yet. He slammed the 1967 borders - the basis for all previous negotiations as "indefensible" and out of touch with reality. He declared that the Jordan Valley would remain forever occupied, and that there was no question of Palestinian refugees being granted their historic right of return. He stopped short of suggesting annexation, but with the West Bank surrounded on all sides and no acceptance of internationally recognised borders, Netanyahu offered no encouragement for the possibility of Palestinian statehood.

It remains to be seen how serious the threat of annexation is. MK Danny Danon has indicated that he hopes the threat alone will be enough to derail the expected UN General Assembly recognition of Palestinian statehood in September. The Israeli right would prefer to continue their expansion under the radar without the international outrage that would follow de facto annexation. The creeping "inch by inch" colonisation continues apace, with the inauguration of a new settlement in Silwan, East Jerusalem, this week - and the authorisation of hundreds more units in the West Bank. 

A credible challenge to occupation

Yet the developing momentum of calls for Palestinian liberation may force Israel's hand. A non-violent resistance movement inspired by the Arab Spring is gaining traction domestically and internationally, throwing the occupation into a harsh public spotlight. Neighbouring Egypt is also applying pressure by opening the Rafah border. Should the UN vote to recognise Palestinian statehood in September, as a growing coalition of states already have, Israel's control may be irreversibly weakened. Forced into a corner, faced with a choice of compromise or aggression, few would expect Israel to choose the former. 

President Obama has given them the green light for impunity. The Arab states remain too incohesive to offer a significant deterrent. The most significant stumbling block is the European states. France, Germany and Britain have all stepped up the pressure on Israel - a trend Obama will have attempted to reverse during his recent charm offensive on the continent.

Ironically, annexation could play into Palestinian hands. The Palestinian Authority has threatened to dissolve itself after the failure of negotiations, thus forcing Israel into responsibility for the occupied population - in line with international law. 

The youth activists, responsible for the Nakba day protests, are wary of the upheaval and violence that would come with annexation but feel it could advance their goals. "This would bring us closer to the one-state solution," says organiser Fajr Harb. Along with his movement, Harb has lost faith in a two-state solution that would leave a Palestinian state crippled by settlements and access restrictions. A bi-national state would give Israel the unpalatable options of either granting civil rights for all, implementing a dictionary definition of apartheid - or carrying out ethnic cleansing on a scale unseen since 1948.

It is already a triumph for Palestinian activists and politicians to have forced Israel to contemplate such high-risk strategies. At last there is a credible challenge to the stealthy expansion that has served Israeli interests for decades. Should Danny Danon and the settlers see their dream of tanks rolling into Ramallah fulfilled, the Israeli fallacies of defence and security will be shredded for all to see, revealing the actual intention to secure "the entire Land of Israel". Could the international community stand idly by and watch annexation or the forced transfer of millions? Israel is weighing up the gamble.

Kieron Monks is content manager of This Week in Palestine magazine. His freelance articles have appeared in The Guardian, Observer, New Statesman, Tribune, Ma'an News and many others.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Manifest destiny and the 'Wild West Bank'

US-Israeli ties may be based on the identification of Israel's settler movement as a relection of frontier past of US.

Tarak Barkawi   Al Jazeera    29 May 2011

Israeli settlers are often the most zealous and violent Israeli citizens - and cause many problems for their Palestinian neighbours [GALLO/GETTY]

Judging by reactions to recent speeches by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, many in the US would prefer to have the Israeli leader directing US foreign policy on the key security questions of the day. It is astonishing that the leader of a foreign country can so publicly and effectively oppose a sitting president in his own capital. Only in the US, and only for Israel.

Why is this so? Why is there such resonance between the people of these two countries?

Just before the first anniversary of 9/11, President Bush told some members of the US House of Representatives that the reason Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction were the biggest threat was because "he can blow up Israel". One way to justify a US invasion of Iraq was to make it for the sake of Israel.

Senator J William Fulbright famously remarked that on anything they care about, the Israelis have 75 to 80 votes in the Senate. In the United States Senate, that is.

As early as 1969, future President Gerald Ford declared that "the fate of Israel is linked to the national security interests of the United States". More apocalyptically, Eugene Rostow warned that it would mean the end of "liberal civilisation" if Israel were not defended.

These are simply extraordinary statements, and many more could be quoted. It is all the more extraordinary that they seem unremarkable, a normal and expected part of the US political scene. Why should the US be so willing to expend blood and, especially, treasure on behalf of a far away country?

A usual explanation is the "Israel Lobby", the "loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction" as Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt define it. Prominent "realists" who believe states act according to their national interests, they are concerned to explain such a glaring anomaly as the case of US policy towards Israel.

Undoubtedly, special interest lobbies of all kinds shape political debate and outcomes in the US and elsewhere. But to identify the Israel lobby and its activities is not an explanation. Why does the US have a lobby for Israel of such scale in the first place? Why should it be so effective? Why is its message so warmly received?

The idea behind the Israel lobby is that US support for Israel has something to do with American Jews, that they have convinced by fair means or foul the rest of the country to act in Israel's interests. This is why criticism of the Israel lobby is so easily tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism.

But a special relationship of this kind has much deeper roots in the American psyche, in the core myths that make up the identity of the US.

Americans see in Israel their own preferred reflection of themselves. They see a lone, devout and free people on the edge of a vast continent full of dusky, hostile natives. Like the European colonists who settled North America, the destiny of this free people is to build a "city on a hill" on virgin land, a beacon of freedom and civilisation in a tragic world.

The natives already in possession of that land are an essential part of the story. Their savagery is an appropriate backdrop against which to illuminate the godliness and purity of the settlers. It also calls forth the need for God's warriors, the brave, resourceful, but pious band of white men who will circle the wagons and hold off the natives.

When American Jews leave behind their safe, comfortable suburban lives for the frontier towns of the West Bank, they are enacting the American story. With Glock automatics instead of Colt revolvers, M16s instead of Winchester rifles, they are off to the last frontier to manifest their destiny.

Other Americans, who have to settle for carrying their guns into the local Starbucks, wish they could be so lucky, that they too could go to a frontier town to play "Cowboys and Indians" for real.

9/11 helped seal this bond between two free peoples. The US too had been attacked by suicidal terrorists. As Paul Wolfowitz told a rally of Israel's supporters, "at that moment every American understood what it is like to live in Jerusalem or Netanya or Haifa".

But in truth any American who had ever watched a John Wayne movie already had a template by which to support Israel. All the Israel lobby had to do was tell its story according to the appropriate myths.

Tarak Barkawi is Senior Lecturer, Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge. He specialises in the study of war, armed forces and society with a focus on conflict between the West and the global South in historical and contemporary perspective. Most recently, he is author of Globalisation and War.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.