As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office in January 2021, J Street is deeply concerned that the Israeli government, with the Trump administration’s backing, aims to heavily escalate illegal de facto annexation of occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank during the “lame-duck” transition period. They’ve taken a major step in that direction with the announcement of 1,200 new tenders for settlement construction in the planned settlement of Givat Hamatos.
Construction in Givat Hamatos is part of a deliberate settlement movement strategy to cut off Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem from the West Bank Palestinian city of Bethlehem, in order to further undermine the prospects for a contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel. The announcement follows a number of other recent measures to step up creeping annexation and erase the distinction between Israel and the territory it occupies beyond the Green Line. These include major home demolitions in the Palestinian Bedouin community of Homsa al-Baqia; thousands of new construction permits issued for settlements throughout the West Bank; a public announcement that US funds for scientific research would now be allowed to flow to institutions in the settlements; and Secretary Pompeo’s planned trip this week to a winery in Psagot — the first ever official visit by a sitting Secretary of State to a settlement in occupied territory.
The Netanyahu government clearly fears that the incoming Biden administration will firmly oppose settlement expansion and once again make achieving a true two-state peace agreement a core foreign policy objective. The prime minister seems eager to use the next few months to create as many provocative new “facts on the ground” as possible in order to help stymie new diplomatic efforts before they can begin. In welcoming the new tenders in Givat Hamatos, Likud MK Miki Zohar announced that “these days are an irreplaceable opportunity to establish our hold on the Land of Israel, and I’m sure that our friend President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be able to take advantage.”
The Givat Hamatos announcement has caused outrage among the international community — and should do so in the United States as well. Visiting the planned settlement today, the EU representative to the Palestinian territories said that “It’s very important to demonstrate unity in the international community that any such project, any such construction, which is illegal under international law, cannot go forward.” The lame-duck period must not be a free-for-all for de facto annexation — deepening the conflict and leaving an even more dire situation facing the next administration.