Israel's Civil Administration, the military organization in charge of the West Bank, gave approval Thursday for the initial plans to build nearly 1,100 new homes in West Bank settlements. Earlier this week, the Israeli Cabinet expanded its list of West Bank settlements eligible for government subsidies.
The announcements come a week before the second round of talks between Israel and Palestine resume. Does Israel really want peace?
Not on Palestinian, or even American, terms.
Israel has a strong range of domestic political forces it has to contend with during any peace negotiations, preventing the government from accepting most peace plans proposed by America, Palestine, the UN, and the Arab League.
As a show of good faith in the negotiations, Israel released 46 of what will be a total of 104 Palestinian veteran prisoners. However, these releases have split the Israeli cabinet, and the outcry has been sharp from Israeli conservatives.
To try and counterbalance the prisoner release, the government is giving approval to the expansion of several outpost settlements — settlements that are deep in Palestinian territory. While these settlements previously only had three dozen mobile homes, they will now have hundreds of permanent houses.
While it is understandable that conservatives within Israel have to be placated in order to keep the peace talks moving, it is not acceptable that the placation comes in the form of settlement expansions. The UN declared Israeli settlements illegal under its Resolution 446, passed in 1979, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the expansions occurring this summer, stating:
"These are unhelpful decisions that undermine progress towards the two-state solution. They constitute a deeply worrisome trend at a moment of ongoing efforts to re-launch peace negotiations."
In protest of continuing expansion of the illegal settlements, which have grown by 7,700 new settlers in the last six months, the EU banned any financial assistance to organizations involved in the settlements.
Settlements consistently pose problems in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and caused the breakdown of the last talks in 2010.
Palestinians have stated that the removal of settlements is non-negotiable in the talks, and the Arab League's peace plan proposes the return to 1967 borders with the removal of settlements.
However, Israelis often refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, and consider the land to be already a part of the country. Many settlements, which have already absorbed large portions of Palestinian land, are subsidized by the government in an effort to encourage further expansions.
The Israeli government's support and emphasis on expanding settlements, despite repeated Palestinian protests and the breakdown of previous negotiations, can only mean that Israel is not seriously intent on achieving a fairly negotiated peace, but only one predicated on meeting its own objectives.