Why the World Must Act to Stop Israel's 'Insatiable Appetite' For Palestinian Land

Israeli cabinet ministers
Right-wing Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett (L) greets Israeli foreign minister and ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman during a session of the Israeli parliament. Both cabinet ministers are advocates of the settlement enterprise and Lieberman himself lives in a West Bank settlement. Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty

In his speech this week outlining his principles for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted what Palestinians have known for more than five decades: Israel has an insatiable appetite for Palestinian land.

And yet, while recognizing that Israel's desire for Greater Israel has only served to oppress Palestinians, the U.S. administration continues to cling to the same, tired formula—that of bilateral talks—instead of pressing Israel to stop its land theft.

Israeli settlement construction and expansion have been a feature of each government since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. And, while Israeli leaders all exhort that they want "peace," no Israeli prime minister since then has ever stopped settlement construction, with money spent on building and expanding settlements even in the face of economic crises.

As Kerry noted, settlements are not built for Israel's security, but rather make it less secure. Settlements are like cancer for Palestinians: once built, they spread and owing to the settlements, Palestinians are barred from building on their own land, are forced to go around Israeli-only roads and forced to endure checkpoints. In other words, our freedom is denied because Israel wants our land.

Settlers not only drive Israel's policies but settlers are incentivized to move into stolen Palestinian land. So entrenched are Israel's settlements, that the current government is pushing to stop the evacuation of so-called "settlement outposts," which are illegal even under Israeli law, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledging to give settlers millions of dollars and vowing to demolish even more Palestinian homes in exchange. And, when the U.N. Security Council passed its recent resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israel's settlements, Israeli politicians across the political spectrum voiced outrage with new settlements announced immediately thereafter.

To be clear, settlements are illegal. All governments around the world, including the U.S. view them as illegal. Yet, despite being illegal, Israel continues to build and expand them, with impunity. Settlements are now so commonplace in Israel that a simple act of demanding that Israel comply with international law is now oddly viewed as anti-Semitic.

And this is where the problem lies. For decades, U.S. administrations have demanded that Palestinians engage in bilateral negotiations with Israel in order to end Israel's military rule. But, it is this very process that has given Israel the green light to build even more settlements. For example, since the negotiations process began in 1993, the settler population in the West Bank alone—not including East Jerusalem—has increased by nearly 270,000, including 100,000 since 2009 when President Barack Obama's term began.

As someone involved in the negotiations, I can attest to the impact that settlements had on our negotiations: instead of Israel removing its settlements, Israel demanded that we accommodate them instead. In short, we were asked to reward Israel's illegal actions or forever live under their yoke.

What is perplexing, therefore, is why the U.S. and the international community are insistent that we continue to negotiate over our land while Israel continues to steal it. As history attests, the U.S.-sponsored "peace" process has been tried—and failed—for 23 years. Demanding that Palestinians continue bilateral negotiations is absurd. Sadly, President Obama had eight years to remedy this situation, but like his predecessors, chose to kick the can to his successor.

Rather, for any progress towards peace to be made, the international community, including the U.S., must finally acknowledge that Israel seeks to permanently control the occupied territories instead of believing the fiction that Israel wants peace. It must make clear that Israel must choose between colonization or peace because it cannot have both. It must impose sanctions on Israel for continuing to defy international law.

Continuing the policy of merely expressing statements against Israel's settlements, without any real measures to stop Israel will only serve to embolden the settler movement and continue to give Israel the impression that it can defy international law while being supported financially, militarily and diplomatically.

I am under no illusion that a Donald Trump administration will do anything to stop Israel, for it has made clear that it unapologetically supports Israel's settlements, oppression of Palestinians and its defiance of international law. But the rest of the world has the ability, indeed the duty, to act.

Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based political analyst and former advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators.