GP Insights # 428, 18 October 2020
On 14 October, ending an eight-month settlement expansion lull, the Israeli government approved 2,166 new settler homes across the occupied West Bank. The approvals come before the visit by a US delegation of top officials to Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in support of the recently concluded US-brokered normalization deals between the three countries – the Abraham Accords. The delegation aims "to support expanded economic cooperation" amongst the signatories.
Meanwhile, the global watchdog group Peace Now says that Israel has already approved over 12,000 illegal settlement houses in 2020.
What is the background?
First, Israel signed the Abraham accords with UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations less than a month ago. Israel had pledged to freeze its annexation plans in exchange of normalization. Moreover, responding to Muslim and Arab criticism, UAE had justified the normalization as being in exchange for the permanent freezing of Israeli annexation.
Second, the accords are a part of US President Donald Trump's larger initiative for Middle East peace. The uptick in settlement ruins the possibility of a larger Arab-Israeli peace by making normalization difficult for other Arab states like Oman.
Third, settlements are considered illegal under international law and globally they are seen as a hurdle for a two-state solution. It signals Israel's dismissal of Palestinian statehood.
What does it mean?
Before drawing inferences, two things must be considered:
First, in January 2020, a controversial plan unveiled by Netanyahu gave the US blessing to Israeli annexation of swathes of the West Bank, including the illegal settlements. Second, in August 2020, Trump's adviser Jared Kushner said that the US would not approve Israeli annexation for "some time". Thus, the US is on board with Israel's resumption of West Bank annexation. While blunt reactions can be expected from the US, UAE and Bahrain, the Palestinian cause has lost its power over the Arab world. Furthermore, the politics of the Arab world is transforming from the strife for Palestinian statehood to the containment of Iran. Arab unity has crumbled.