by Patrick Strickland 23 May 2015 Electronic Intifada
Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s new deputy foreign minister, vowed to continue building Jewish-only settlements across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in a recent speech to ministry employees.
Hotovely is a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline Likud party which returned to power in Israel’s 17 March elections at the head of one of the most right-wing coalition governments in the country’s history.
Because Netanyahu is presently serving as acting foreign minister, Hotovely is the highest ranking diplomat for the time being, Associated Press reports. “This land is ours,” she said. “All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologize for that.”
Announcing that she intends to seek international recognition of Israeli settlements, she said: “We expect as a matter of principle of the international community to recognize Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland, everywhere.”
Considered illegal under international law, more than half a million Israeli settlers live in colonies across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
“We sought to present arguments that would play well diplomatically, but currently it’s important to be right. We need to get back to the basic truth of our right to this land,” Hotovely also said, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.
Hotovely cited a number of religious texts to justify her claims to Palestinian land. “Rashi says the Torah opens with the story of the creation of the world so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the creator of the world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us,” she said, citing medieval scholar Rabbi Shlomo Ben Yitzhaki by his abbreviated name.
Hotovely’s statements are nothing new, and she has in the past been outspoken about her expansionist designs. In 2013, while serving as deputy transportation minister, she accused her colleagues in the Likud party of exhibiting what she called “schizophrenia.”
Denouncing negotiations towards a two-state solution between Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, she reasserted her support for annexation. “Members of our movement [Likud] never agreed to found a Palestinian state.”
“The existence of Jordan is a historic compromise,” she added, recycling a frequent Zionist talking point that Jordan should serve as a national homeland for Palestinians. “Whoever believes in the Greater Land of Israel has never been prepared to give parts of our homeland away for any purpose, not even for peace.”
“I’m a Jewish racist”
Objecting to Hotovely’s plan to annex the whole West Bank and to force Palestinians to accept Israeli citizenship, her fellow Likud member Eli Hazan said: “I’m a Jewish racist, and I’m not embarrassed to say I want a Jewish state with a Jewish majority.”
Hazan’s comments reflect a common argument among many liberal and, to a lesser extent, right-wing Zionists who cite Palestinian birthrates as a “ticking time bomb” or “demographic threat” that could undo Israel’s Jewish majority.
Yet, in response, Hotovely said she is “unafraid of Israel becoming a binational state, rather than a Jewish state, as the government would also declare Jewish immigration as a national goal,” as the right-wing Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post reported at the time.
In order to offset the demographic balance, Hotovely proposed a government plan to bring a million Jews from across the world to Israel, the Jerusalem Post added.
Following the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli youths hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank last summer, Hotovely likened Palestinians to “Nazis” and called for the death penalty against Palestinians convicted of armed activities against Israel.
In 2013, when Palestinian member of the Israel’s parliament Jamal Zahalka spoke out against plans to recruit Palestinian citizens of Israel into civic service, Hotovely lashed out at him for supposedly encouraging them “to be freeloaders, to take as much as they can without giving anything to the country.”
Regarding her expansionist designs and anti-Palestinian views, Hotovely is not alone in the new Israeli government.
On “Jerusalem Day,” an Israeli holiday celebrating the 1967 military occupation of East Jerusalem, Netanyahu promised to “continue to build and nurture [Jerusalem], to expand her neighborhoods,” referring to the city as the “eternal capital” of Jews alone.
“I have a clear position — we build in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu also appointed the Jewish Home (Habayit Hayehudi) party’s Ayelet Shakedas justice minister. Shaked – internationally notorious for a Facebook post last summer endorsing genocide of Palestinians – and her party support unilaterally annexing Area C of the West Bank. Compromising some 60 percent of the territory, Area C is under full Israeli military control and is home to more than 300,000 Palestinians, according to a 2014 United Nations estimate.
Uri Ariel, the new agricultural minister, also has a long history of promoting the unilateral annexation of the West Bank. A prominent figure among Israeli settlers, Ariel as far back as 2012 urged Israel to annex the West Bank and give Palestinians the “status of residents,” +972 Magazine noted at the time.
From 2013 till 2015, Ariel served as Israel’s construction minister and oversaw the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
Netanyahu also put Silvan Shalom, a Likud politician who supports settlements, in charge of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Haaretz recently reported. While touring the occupied West Bank in 2014, Shalom referred to Jewish-only settlements as “the bullet proof vest of the State of Israel.” In effect, Shalom seems to be saying that Israel views settlers as human shields.
Earlier this month, Israeli settler leaders expressed optimism over the composition of Israel’s new government. “There is a pretty permanent reality in Judea and Samaria, one that is almost irreversible,” Yigal Dilmoni, the spokesman for the settler group the Yesha Council, told the Associated Press, referring to the West Bank using Israel’s terminology. “We are optimistic but not power drunk.”
Plans to continue the colonization of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are already being implemented at a breakneck pace under the new government.
Israel also ordered the demolition of Abu Nuwwar, a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank, to make way for the expansion of the Maaleh Adumim settlement, according to Ma’an News Agency. That plan will cause dozens of Palestinian families to be forcibly relocated to a nearby planned township.
As part of Netanyahu’s coalition agreement with the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, his government will seek to retroactively recognize Israeli “outposts” – West Bank settlements built without the government’s permission.
In addition to the more than 150 settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, around 100 outposts are scattered throughout the territory.
Despite the new government’s clear intentions to expand existing settlements and build new ones, the United States has warmly welcomed the new coalition.
President Barack Obama sent “congratulations” to Israel’s new government, according to a White House statement published in early May. “President Obama looks forward to working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new government,” the statement read.
The Obama administration also approved a deal to provide Israel with $1.9 billion in weapons as “compensation” for the US-Iran nuclear deal.
Palestine’s empty breadbasket
The governor of the Tubas governorate in the northeastern West Bank, Rabih al-Khandakji, told Al-Monitor: “The region of al-Sakut has been classified as a closed military zone and a mine zone since its occupation in 1967. Yet, after the mines were removed, farmers tried to cultivate the land, since they have documents confirming they own it. However, the settlers prevented them from doing this. Later, the Israeli army intervened and declared it a closed military zone for Palestinians, but it is still open to settlers to farm and steal its waters.”
Palestinians are skeptical of the security justifications used by Israel to maintain control over the Jordan Valley. Khandakji said, “The security narrative that is advanced by Israel to hold onto the Jordan Valley is refuted by the measures the army carries out, including confiscating land for military exercises and then converting it to agricultural settlement, seizing water resources in the Jordan Valley, pursuing any Palestinian residential presence and destroying crops.”
The same scenario has been repeated in other parts of the Jordan Valley. The area is prized by Israel, whose economic exploitation of it brings in millions of dollars annually. Meanwhile, Palestinians are banned from the region and not allowed to benefit from its resources under security pretexts. The region is classified not only as a closed military zone, but also as a military training camp and sometimes as minefields.
The Jordan Valley is considered the “breadbasket” of Palestine because of its fertile soil, water resources and suitable climatic conditions. Located in the eastern West Bank, it extends 68.5 km (42.5 miles) from Jericho in the south to Tubas in the north, and 24 km (15 miles) from the shores of the Dead Sea in the east to the western hills of Tubas and Jericho in the west. It covers an area of 1,600 square km (618 square miles), equivalent to one fourth the total area of the West Bank, and is home to about 57,000 Palestinians.
According to data from B’Tselem, until 2013 Israel had established in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea region 39 settlement outposts — nine of which are unlicensed — housing nearly 11,000 settlers.
B’Tselem notes that Palestinians are banned from using 85.2% of the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea regions. They are forbidden from residing, building or grazing livestock in these areas under a number of pretexts, such as parts of it being declared “state land,” military regions or nature reserves. Meanwhile, the portions open to Palestinians are divided into isolated areas separated by military training zones, settlements or nature reserves, preventing Palestinians from developing the land.
Walid Assaf, the chairman of the Commission Against the Wall and Settlements and the former minister of agriculture, told Al-Monitor: “After the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israel declared the Jordan Valley to be closed military regions. It destroyed 78 water wells, expelled residents and confiscated their land, transforming the area into settlements that make use of the existing natural resources for agricultural and industrial production.”
He added: “Israel resorts to many methods to control the land and expel residents from it, such as depriving these areas of basic services like electricity, well digging and water, as well as banning the construction of schools and hospitals and continuing to destroy [some 230] residential communities that it refuses to license. It adopts a policy of issuing orders to evacuate and confiscate land, declares closed military zones, confiscates sheep, cattle, bulldozers and tractors and imposes heavy fines on citizens.”
Israel does not hide its political and economic ambitions in the Jordan Valley area. In 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that the Jordan Valley would be separated from the West Bank through the construction of a separation wall to annex the Jordan Valley settlements. In 2013, Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett called for imposing Israeli sovereignty over Area C in a unilateral manner. According to the Israeli Settlement Council, this comes at a time when the profits of Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley reached about $650 million in 2012.
Israel’s control over Area C, the majority of which comprises the Jordan Valley, caused millions of dollars in losses for the Palestinian economy. A report issued by the World Bank in 2013 said: “The Palestinian economy loses about $3.4 billion annually as a result of Palestinians being prevented from accessing Area C, which is considered the key to the sustainable development of the Palestinian economy.”
The World Bank report further noted that Area C contains the majority of the West Bank’s natural resources, and the removal of Israeli restrictions and allowing for development of businesses in the area would benefit the Palestinian economy, adding as much as 35% to the Palestinian GDP.
Azmi Abdul Rahman, the director-general for economic policy in the Ministry of Economy, told Al-Monitor that according to the Ministry of Economy’s reports: “The loss incurred by Palestinians as a result of not being able to take advantage of Area C amounts to more than $5 billion per year. About $800 million is lost by the agricultural sector along the border with Jordan, since Israel controls 60% of Area C, while the remaining 85% of the loss comes from confiscation of water.”
He pointed out that in the past the agricultural sector contributed to more than 15% of GDP, but today its contribution has fallen to less than 5%.
Samir Abdullah, the general director of the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute-MAS, told Al-Monitor that the nature of the Jordan Valley — with its fertile land, abundant water and favorable climate — makes it the biggest natural greenhouse on Earth. He added that farmers' ability to produce three crops there per year, as well as its fertility, makes the occupation eager to control it.
“The economic importance of the Jordan Valley is not limited to agriculture alone. Israel also benefits from water sources and exploiting the Dead Sea, in terms of extracting types of salt that are rare globally. It also benefits from the Valley in terms of tourism, and [the region] could lift the Palestinian economy if it was under the control of the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
The Jordan Valley and Area C comprise two pillars of the authority’s plans to establish a state from the economic, geographic and political perspectives. Without these regions, it will not be able to establish a state that has economic resources, enabling it to progress with economic development and ensure national sovereignty.