On the day of this publication, two prominent related developments took place. The first was Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s approval of the construction and marketing of 277 new housing units in Ariel settlement, 100 of which will be used to resettle families evacuated six years ago from Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Strip.
The other related development was a violent physical attack by a group of Jewish settlers against buses carrying Palestinian families on their way to visit their relatives in Nafha and Rimon prisons in southern Israel.
These two incidents are representative examples of the reality Palestinians live in under occupation in the West Bank. Israel’s expansion of illegal Jewish settlements is rapidly growing and, in parallel, settler terrorism is increasing. So much so that Avi Mizrahi, the Israeli military’s central region commander, referred in a Channel 2 news report last month to "incitement" to carry out what he called "settler terrorism" against Palestinians coming from a religious school in Yitzhar settlement near Nablus.
There are several dangerous dimensions to these two trends, increased settlement building and terrorism. The first dimension is the violation of Palestinian rights. These settlements are expanding on land belonging to Palestinian landowners and the Palestinian people as a whole. Second, there is a very real physical threat. The settler aggression has included destroying thousands of Palestinian olive and other fruit trees, vandalizing property, and terrorizing, injuring and sometimes killing Palestinians in areas adjacent to Jewish settlements.
The other danger of these two trends is that they undermine the prospects of peace. The only peace formula that the world is able to envisage is based on a two-state solution on the 1967 borders. Israel is building Jewish settlements in the exact territory where the Palestinian state is supposed to be established. The continuity of these Israeli illegal policies is leading to a reality that will make the Palestinian state and the two-state solution practically impossible.
This is not only a problem for Palestinians and their cause; this is also a challenge to the international community. The world must wake up to what is happening in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel is racing against time in order to make the two-state solution harder to implement.
By continuing the expansion of settlements, Israel is disregarding the Middle East policy of almost every country in the world. Nearly all stipulate that the Israeli settlements and their ongoing growth are obstacles to peace and illegal, and therefore must be stopped. The question the Palestinians are going to ask in September at the United Nations is what the international community is going to do about this intransigence.
Both trends–the expansion of settlements and the settlers’ violence–come from a specific address that needs to be held accountable by the international community. This address is the Israeli government that is watching, and sometimes encouraging, the behavior of its settlers. That is why an indicator of the seriousness and effectiveness of the international community’s new approach to the conflict must be to introduce elements of accountability into its relationship with Israel. Otherwise, Israel will continue and even be encouraged in its disregard for international requests that it stop settlement construction and settler violations.