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  February 8, 2017

Israel Announces Expansion of West Bank Colonization Amid Rise in Corruption Scandals

Political economist Shir Hever says the consequences of recent legislation will lead to a deterioration in foreign relations and deliver a major blow to the nation's culture industry
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Shir Hever is an economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.


KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Kim Brown, in Baltimore.

The Israeli right wing government is pushing a wave of legislation leading to the deterioration in Israeli foreign relations. The Knesset is also very close to finalizing a law, to bar entrance to the country, for anyone caught supporting a boycott against any institution in the area under control of Israel.

The government has also decided not to join the Creative Europe Project, which would have funded the Israeli cultural institutions with millions of Euros from the European Union. The project, however, excludes the illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank, and therefore, the Israeli government rejected it. Israeli artists have protested the government's decision.

On Monday night, the Knesset passed the controversial Law of Regulation, to retroactively legalize colonies built on stolen Palestinian land. In response, Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, announced that he will ask France to recognize the State of Palestine. The European Union has already decided to postpone a summit meeting with Israel, dismayed by the new law.

And joining us now, for further analysis about these latest goings-on in Israel, we're joined with Shir Hever. He is a correspondent of The Real News Network in Heidelberg, Germany. Shir, we appreciate you joining us.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Kim.

KIM BROWN: Shir, so let's start with the Regulations Law, which is retroactively legitimizing land theft for Israeli colonization in the West Bank. So, why is this law significant?

SHIR HEVER: So, even though this law is only referring to one specific colony, named Defray(?), and only a couple of buildings in that colony which would be retroactively legalized. Both the opposition and the coalition in Israel speak very frankly that this law is actually intended to create a precedent, that would allow Israeli colonization to encroach on privately owned Palestinian land, and not just on state lands.

And this is a very big shift in the Israeli colonization policy, not only in terms of expanding the existing colonies, but also in the taking away one of the most important tools of human rights organizations and international law organizations, in Israel and Palestine, who are trying to fight against this colonization.

KIM BROWN: So, can you explain the concept of state lands, in the context of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank?

SHIR HEVER: There is actually an old Ottoman law which states that, under the Ottoman Empire, which no longer exists, any land which is not regularly cultivated by the farmers can be confiscated by the Sultan, who will then gain ownership of the land, and can give it to another farmer.

When Israel conquered the Palestinian territory in 1967, they decided to adopt this Ottoman law, and to apply it to the Palestinian territory. So, that when Palestinians don't have access to their lands -- sometimes because of checkpoints or because of some Israelis-only road that has been built and disconnects them from access to their land -- then after two or three years, the Israeli government would say, "This land now becomes State land."

And they interpret it as if the Israeli government is the Sultan, in this hypothetical Ottoman Empire scenario. And what they understand under state land, unlike what the term usually signifies in other countries, state land means public land that can be used for parks or for roads or for industrial zones to serve the entire population.

Here we're talking about state lands, meaning that the government can just use it as if it was its own private property, and they can give it to colonists who build illegal colonies inside the West Bank.

KIM BROWN: So, in the last couple of days, we're witnessing an escalation along the border of the Gaza Strip. Fire is being exchanged, gunfire, that is. The Israeli air force has bombed the Gaza Strip and claimed that it is in retaliation against Palestinians shooting rockets into Israel. So, is this related to the Israeli government adopting an even more hardline approach than usual?

SHIR HEVER: It is related, but not in a very straightforward way, because, actually it's not the Hamas Party in Gaza who are now trying to stop the Israeli legislation. They know that rockets are not going to dissuade the Israeli Knesset. Actually, Hamas has made a statement that they did not start this escalation. They're not interested in an escalation in any of the... Further escalation is Israel's fault.

Whenever Israel bombs Gaza, they always say it's in retaliation to Palestinian rockets, whether there were rockets or not. In this case, it seems that there were no Palestinian rockets; that Israel fired the first shot. And they do that, as part of the government's attempt to remain stable, and to say, "Well, we have a security emergency, and we're promoting all of these laws; and the Palestinians are unruly, and have to be oppressed with force."

As a way to distract public opinion, and the media, from the fact that the Israeli government is now under a barrage of corruption cases, especially the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister Netanyahu, is only able to hold to power because of one very extreme right wing political party, the Jewish Home Party. Which is a major member of his coalition.

The Jewish Home Party says, "Well, we're going to ignore all of these corruption cases, and we're going to continue to support you, as long as you further escalate the relations against the Palestinians, and make it possible for Israel to take as much land as possible."

KIM BROWN: So, where is all this legislation heading towards, Shir? Like, what is the Israeli government trying to achieve here?

KIM BROWN: I think this is something that is so obvious... So, many Israeli politicians from the right wing, not only from this Jewish Home Party, but also from the ruling HaLikud Party, are saying this in interviews, are saying this on the media. But somehow the Israeli center, the Israeli left wing, is ignoring it. And they're saying again and again, "Our end game is annexation. We want to annex as much as possible of the West Bank."

And this is a clear violation of international law. It stands in complete contrast to the position of the United States, throughout all of the administrations that have existed so far. Now, the current administration may have a different idea. And actually, the vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Hotovely, she is a woman who in effect, is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Because, even though she's officially only the vice-minister, because the minister is Prime Minister Netanyahu, and he doesn't have a lot of time to work as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

She was on a satirical show and just prior to the Inauguration of President Trump, and she said, "Yes, we want to annex all of the West Bank, and Israel will grow to encompass this entire area." And she was asked, "Well, what are you waiting for?" And she said, "I'm waiting for Trump." So, I think this is really where they're headed.

SHIR HEVER: So, can the State of Israel afford the price of this legislation, in terms of the deteriorating foreign relations that are coming as a result of it?

SHIR HEVER: No. The Israeli State cannot afford this price. The government is trying to pretend that they can afford the price, at least in the short-term, by promoting this very isolationist kind of legislation. Which just blows in the face of all international law, and international conventions, and foreign policy objectives, of both the European Union and the United States.

But the consequences of that kind of legislation is just cutting the ties, the diplomatic ties, that Israel has with the European Union, and with the United States, and with other countries as well. It means, with what we've seen now with Creative Europe, this project of culture support, is a serious blow to the Israeli culture industry. That means that a lot of artists, especially young artists, are going to leave the country because they're not going to be able to sustain themselves with government funding, which is very small.

So, this is actually a very ongoing, deep crisis, in the Israeli political and economic situation and sustainability. But the Israeli government is desperate, and they have to do whatever they can right now to stay in power, and to use all these populist moves.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. We've been speaking with Real News correspondent, Shir Hever, who's been coming to us from Heidelberg, Germany. Shir, we appreciate your ongoing reporting on this issue. Thanks.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you very much, Kim.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.




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