Major settlement expansion announced in West Bank

Palestinian land was declared ‘state lands’ recently by Israel to expand the settlement of Efrat, near Bethlehem. This announcement was made just two weeks before Secretary of State is due to meet with newly elected government officials in Israel.

Settlements are illegal under international law and Amnesty International condemns their presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories based on their illegality and believes the existence of these settlements has led to mass human rights violations against the local Palestinian population.

Settlements aren’t only illegal under international law, but are at odds with American policy. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeatedly made trips to Israel, often having to repeatedly condemn settlement activity.

Settlements are an impediment to peace, but also a catalyst for human rights violations including (but not limited to) evictions and home demolitions. Often Palestinian lands are confiscated for direct construction or ‘security reasons’ created by settlement expansion and water confiscation and shortages are a major issue.

B’tselem video on water shortages due to settlement activity:

The expansion of Efrat specifically threatens the environs of Bethlehem such as the Hope Flowers School which is supported by peace groups and churches here in the US. Back in 2007, the BBC wrote a story already alluding to the expansion of Efrat saying,

“Officials say the order was issued because the cafeteria [at Hope Flowers School] was built without a permit, but staff believe it is to make way for the expansion of the adjacent Jewish settlement of Efrat.”

Special Envoy George Mitchell strongly condemned illegal Israeli settlements in his report in 2001 calling on Israel to freeze all settlement activity. President Obama made overtures to the Arab world and showed that he is willing to listen and show respect for their perspectives and human rights

But, will Sec’y Clinton, when she’s in Israel this March, go farther than parroting diplomatic sound bites? Will there be any constructive pressure put upon the parties to move forward, adhere to international law and prior peace agreements or will she continue to spout empty words like Sec’y Rice?

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