As the national debate in Israel on whether or not to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran reached a fever pitch, Israeli authorities were set to approve grants for building hotels in settlements built in the occupied West Bank.
Until recently, grants were only given out to development projects in Israel proper. If approved, this plan means construction will be allowed inside settlements built on occupied Palestinian territory, most notably the settlement of Maaleh Adumim, on the environs of Jerusalem, and Gush Etzion, a cluster of settlements located south of the Holy City.
Israel's tourism industry is saying that such a step is needed to alleviate the high demand for room and board in Jerusalem. But Palestinians are concerned that this is another excuse being used by Israeli authorities to further cement their grip on the eastern part of the city, which they foresee as their future capital. It is worth noting that overwhelmingly the international community does not recognize Israel's sovereignty of any part of the city east of the 1967 armistice line, which divides Jerusalem.
As the peace process lay in tatters with Palestinians being blamed for the stalemate, Israeli leaders have been taking advantage of several tools to change the status quo in the West Bank. Today facts on the ground characterized by an ever-growing Israeli settlement project have proved that calls for a two-state solution are in fact futile, killing any prospects of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
After all, settlements have been mushrooming across the West Bank and East Jerusalem for years. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are over half a million Israelis estimated to be living in 150 West Bank settlements, including East Jerusalem and excluding what is referred to as outposts, which are smaller settlements established with no official recognition. Despite being dubbed "illegal" by Israel, these smaller enclaves, built without state permission, are provided with electricity and water supplies.
The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank has almost doubled in the past 12 years. Numbers provided by Israel's population registry show a 4.5 percent increase in the past 12 months alone. It's highly unlikely that these settlers will be forced to move. They enjoy generous government incentives to live there -- in the form of wages, education and health care.
The Israeli state has invested heavily in settlements: During 2011, it spent more than a billion shekels on them, a 38 percent spike from the previous year. These numbers were cited in the Israeli business daily Calcalist, which drew its data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. The last time Israel spent such a large figure--2.5 billion shekels--on settlement building was in 1993.
Under the guise of negotiations, and despite claims to the contrary, Israel has supported the rapid expansion of its settlement project. Even during "moratoriums" and "temporary freezes," settlement construction continued unabated in existing settlements. And even during the "peaceful" years of the Oslo Accords, settlers continued to grow in large numbers, suggesting that the occupation, entrenched by the settler movement, was here to stay. All one has to do is look at the numbers and locations of settlements peppered across the West Bank and placed strategically atop its hills, enjoying more water per capita than citizens living in Israel proper.
Settlers themselves have been vocal about their entrenchment in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yaakov Katz, an Israeli politician, told Israel's Hayom newspaper that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would reach 1 million by 2016. At that point "the revolution will have been completed," he said.
His prediction came at the heels of a statement by Dani Dayan, a settler leader, who in The New York Times corroborated what many Palestinians have been fearful of for years: "Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile ... Western governments must reassess their approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They should acknowledge that no final status solution is imminent."
Dayan said that the international community should stop all "vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution, and [replace] them with intense efforts to improve and maintain the current reality on the ground."
Even the Israeli government itself has in several occasions reiterated its unwillingness to give up settlements in any peace deal. Just last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on a visit to the Bethlehem-area settlement of Efrat that it would "always" be a part of Israel.
"Efrat and Gush Etzion are integral parts of greater Jerusalem," The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as saying.
"They are the southern gates of Jerusalem and will always be part of the State of Israel. We are building Efrat and Gush Etzion with enthusiasm, faith and responsibility." These comments sum up the states quest to legitimize settlements as they are built, creating new norms which will b greatly affect the contours of any future Palestinian state.
The Jewish state is raising the specter of fear against anything ostensibly foreign -- from Sudanese migrant workers to the aforementioned Islamic Republic -- in order to deflect national dialogue and international criticism away from its military occupation and activities in the Palestinian territories. Meanwhile building in the West Bank goes on unabated, creating more facts on the ground, one hotel at a time.