Palestine: Zionists tighten their grip

Trump Palestine Jerusalim

Trump’s election as US president has given confidence to the Israeli right that their plans for settlement expansion will not be held back. Three days after the Washington inauguration the Zionist regime announced the construction of 2,500 new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank. The fact that many of these are planned for the illegal Beit El settlement near Ramallah, the site of settler violence against protests by Palestinians living in the area, shows that Israeli leaders expect no significant constraints from the new US presidency. The plans come as Israel accelerates house demolitions and land grabs in historic Palestine and proposals to annex other illegal settlements. Trump’s stated aim of moving the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem has become another flashpoint for Palestinian protests. Louis Brehony reports.

On 22 January, right wing Zionist Members of Knesset (MPs) brought forward a bill to annex the land around the 40,000-strong Zionist settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in an area east of Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously opposed the annexation, but the bill is seen by Israeli commentators as a move to test Trump’s true intentions towards the settlements. Annexations of land have focused mostly on Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under the total control of the Israeli occupation. For the residents of villages like Susya and 16 others in the Hebron area, this means the threat of wholesale eviction. Yochai Damari, head of the settler Hebron Mount regional council, describes the Palestinian villagers as a ‘criminal tribe’ of ‘invaders’.

Peace Now reports that in the first six months of 2016 alone, Israel began the construction of 1,195 new settlement units in the West Bank, a 40% increase on the previous six months. The numbers announced in January 2017 already outstrip this. Leader of the fascist Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett, a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet, is calling for annexations even beyond those supported publicly by Defence Minister Lieberman and other leading Zionists. Bennett has tabled a parliamentary bill to annex Ma’ale Adumim and calls for the appropriation of all of Area C. There are divisions between the ‘extreme’ and ‘moderate’ right in the Zionist ruling class but Trump’s election has given encouragement to the most ambitious racists in the Israeli government.

Trump told an MSNBC TV programme in February 2016, when he was running for the Republican nomination, that he would be ‘a sort of neutral guy’ towards Palestinians and Israelis. A week later he backtracked: ‘They [Israel] have been our most reliable ally, especially in the Middle East and you look at what’s happened with Israel. They were so against this horrible Iran deal. They were so against it. And I’ll tell you what; Obama is the worst thing that has ever happened to Israel…I’m with Israel 100 percent.’ As the campaign progressed, the Trump team clarified what this would mean in practice: under his presidency, US imperialism would oppose any limits on Zionist settlement building in the West Bank and would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. Throughout, Trump depicted Clinton and the Democrats as traitors to the Zionist cause, saying Obama had ‘abandoned Israel’ by dealing with Iran. The Obama administration’s refusal on 23 December 2016 to block UN Security Council resolution 2334, opposing the ‘construction and expansion of settlements’, was met with a warning from Trump: ‘things will be different after Jan 20th’. Signalling British compliance with US imperialist tactics, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to attend an EU foreign ministers’ conference on a new ‘peace process’ on 17 January or endorse its statement.

On Trump’s inauguration day, Palestinians took to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza for ‘Stop Trump’ protests, declaring: ‘Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine’. Thousands marched in Nablus behind the banner: ‘Moving the American embassy is a new Balfour Declaration for Palestinians’. Palestinian Authority leaders have threatened ‘consequences’ for both Trump’s embassy plan and the expansion of settlement building but its record speaks for itself. PA forces were responsible for the arrests of 40% of all Palestinian ‘terrorist suspects’ in the West Bank in the first months of 2016. In October, a PA communications officer, Osama Mansour Abu Arab, was arrested for a Facebook post criticising Mahmoud Abbas’ attendance at the funeral of Israeli war criminal Shimon Peres: ‘There should be no personal or friendly relations with the occupier, as long as they continue with their arrogant policies against our people.’ A PA military court sentenced Abu Arab to 18 months in prison.

The ascendancy of the most fascistic forms of Zionism was evident in the massive protests against the conviction of IDF soldier Elor Azaria for manslaughter on 4 January. Azaria had shot dead a wounded 21-year-old Palestinian, Abdel Fattah Al Sharif, at point-blank range in Hebron in March 2016. Al Sharif had already been shot, and was lying unattended on the ground. Azari’s action was no more than summary execution; the conviction was in itself a whitewash but was still unacceptable for majority Zionist opinion. Polls show that 67% of Israelis support a pardon for Azaria; this figure rises to 84% of those between 18 and 24, the age of army conscription. Netanyahu has also given his support.

On 18 January, days after the Azaria judgment, a Palestinian Bedouin, Yacoub Abu Al Qiyan, was shot dead in his car during protests in the village of Umm Al Heiran in the Naqab (Negev) region. Naqab residents have continued to resist house demolitions, with violent confrontations as Palestinians respond to Zionist forces sent to put down the ‘riots’. Activists report that teargas and stun grenades have been fired directly into the faces of protesters. In the Naqab region alone more than 160,000 Palestinian Bedouins live in villages ‘unrecognised’ by the Israeli state and therefore liable to eviction at any time. Further north there were mass mobilisations in the Nazareth area as villagers raised Palestinian flags and banners denouncing the land grabs. PA collusion with the Zionist occupation will set no challenge to Trump. The movement on the streets must be rebuilt.

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 255 February/March 2017