Erekat: Israel intensifies demolitions, evictions, confiscations to advance annexation plans 

Letter by Saeb Erekat- Secretary General of PLO/  

To the Diplomatic Community in Palestine,

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed an acceleration of Israeli plans to further annex territory from the occupied State of Palestine as well as to consolidate and cement the presence of Israel’s colonial-settlement enterprise in various areas of Occupied Palestine, including in and around East Jerusalem, Hebron and the area close to the Palestinian village of Jaloud, between Ramallah and Nablus.

The recent unlawful practices have included at least 56 plans for 4,909 colonial settlement units between January – August 2017. This represents a sharp increase of 85% compared to all approved settlement units during 2016. At the same time, there are discussions within the Israeli Cabinet to further annex Palestinian territories to the Israeli defined “Jerusalem Municipality”, including areas in the Eastern Jerusalem Governorate (towards the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumin), areas close to the illegal settlement of Giv’at Zeev (close to Ramallah) as well as the Western Bethlehem Area known by Israel as “Gush Etzion”.

On August 28th, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -whilst addressing thousands of settlers gathered in an illegal Israeli colonial-settlement in the Occupied West Bank-said “We’re here to stay (…) there will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel (…) we are guarding Samaria against those who want to uproot us (…) We will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle.” Netanyahu’s statement and other Israeli official’s rhetoric, including several ministers are reflective of the systematic Israeli incitement against the rights of the Palestinian people.

In order to advance the annexation plans, Israel, the occupying power, has intensified the process of home demolitions, evictions, destruction of property and confiscation of aid provided by the International Community, such as in the case of Jabal Il Baba and Al Wallajeh and elsewhere, where even schools were destroyed and all their teaching materials confiscated. Only today, in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli Occupation Forces evicted the Shamasneh family from their home, allowing Israeli settlers to take it over. This happened as 121 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished in the occupied capital during 2017, displacing at least 168 Palestinians. All these unlawful acts are about forcibly displacing and replacing Palestinians from the area in and around Occupied East Jerusalem with Israeli Jewish settlers.

We have also been following the issue of Jaffa Gate and the attempts by Israeli settlers, supported by the Israeli Government, to take over two important buildings at the entrance of the Old City, separating the Christian and Armenian Quarters, severely affecting the Status Quo and particularly threatening the presence of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem.

Furthermore, the Israeli Cabinet has approved on Sunday September 3rd the plans to proceed with the construction of a new illegal colonial settlement in the area of Jaloud – between the Ramallah and Nablus governorates. This adds to a military decision taken last week, , to expand “borders” and give further “municipal powers” to the illegal settlers living in the Old City of Hebron, a recently inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is not only a new Israeli violation of its obligations under International Law and UN resolutions, particularly UNSC 2334, but also to the Hebron Agreement signed between the PLO and Israel in 1997. ). In the context of the illegality of settlements, we have condemned the irresponsible statement of the US Ambassador to Tel Aviv, Mr. David Friedman of “alleged occupation” This statement is totally unacceptable and dangerous.

Regretfully, such actions and practices could not have taken place without the complicity of the international community. The Israeli government is pushing for a process of normalization of the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestine, including by attempting to distinguish between different Israeli colonial settlements (including the use of the Israeli term of “settlement blocs” that Palestine and the rest of the international community don’t recognize).

The Palestinian leadership is acting in good faith to open a political horizon that will protect and advance the long overdue rights of the Palestinian people, including cooperating with the US administration, Russia, France, Sweden, South Africa, Germany, UK, China and rest of the international actors interested in the resumption of the Peace Process. However, this should not be taken as an excuse by some countries and regional groups to strengthen their relations with Israel, normalize the occupation and simply ignore their responsibilities as per international law to take concrete steps to end the systematic Israeli violations of International Humanitarian Law.

Tangible action should be taken to challenge Israel’s violation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. We are looking forward for the publication by the UN Human Rights Council of the list of companies involved with the Israeli colonial-settlement occupation of Palestine and we consider any attempt at blocking its publication as immoral and complicit with the systematic denial of our rights. Also, and as conveyed to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last week, we expect countries to participate in the Item 7, on the Human Rights Situation of the Territories Occupied by Israel since 1967, later this month in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council. We have also raised with the Secretary General the importance of following up on the implementation of UNSC Resolution 2334. We furthermore, reiterate our call for the banning of Israeli settlement products as well as for the recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border.

As Palestinians living under colonial occupation are marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the UN partition plan and 50 years of the Israeli occupation, it is clear that the international community bears a legal, political and moral responsibility to fulfill the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and hold Israel accountable. The time is overdue for real and urgent action in order to save the prospects of a political solution, the two-state solution on the 1967 border and the chances for a just and lasting peace in Palestine and in the rest of the region.