425 acres to the north of Efrat in the West Bank have just been declared State Land by Israel, for more settlement homes. Efrat is in Gush Etzion, one of the settlement blocs which predates the establishment of Israel, and which has been negotiated to remain under Israeli control in return for land from elsewhere.
Any settlement activity has been identified repeatedly as a major obstacle to peace – for example, in the Mitchell Report into the origins of the Second Intifada. Even the settlements which remain with Israel after a state of Palestine is established were supposed to have frozen long ago. This was agreed, but Israel has not kept to this part of the agreement. Settlement activity increased 69% last year – and 39% of the new structures were illegal outposts. They mushroom while the Israeli authorities eyes are elsewhere, and when they are dismantled they crop up again somewhere else. The settlers who people these outposts on Palestinian land are lawless people who violently respond to Palestinians who resist them.
There are a number of stages before work can start, including Defence Ministry approval. Obama’s administration plans heavy pressure to prevent this kind of expansion.
My question (to you, reader, and to myself): if you were part of a centre or centre-right Israeli coalition government and recognised that ending the occupation was critical to Israel’s well-being if not survival, and that ruining Palestinian lives was out-and-out wrong, but were confronted by the obstacle of a large and recalcitrant settler community which was threatening civil war and which was supported by a defencist and/or pro-settlement factions in the government which were pivotal to the balance of power, and if your population was gripped by existential fear at levels unknown for 40 years – and for good reason – to the extent that any aggression by Israel would seem justifiable to many Israelis, what would you do? What would you hope for from the international community?