Israel's Greatest National Project: Illegal West Bank Settlements

Just for a moment, let's feign astonishment at this new revelation: Naftali Bennett has just become the latest Israeli official to declare the two-state solution a dead end. Speaking at a conference for Jewish settlers, he said the idea of negotiating for an independent Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one was "futile" and "hopeless" and that the only Israeli approach to this conflict should be to "build, build, build" in the Palestinian West Bank (sorry, in the land that has been Israel "for 3,000 years").


That last line should make clear that this is not a sudden Bennett endorsement of a one-state solution, with equal rights for all.

But it should, of course, be no great surprise that coalition partner Bennett, the Israeli trade minister and leader of ultranationalist party Jewish Home, should come up with this kind of comment. He is not the first to do so, either. The past few years have been studded with similar pronouncements from high-profile officials.

Just last week the deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, said that the coalition government flatly opposed a two-state solution. Another Knesset member, Tzipi Hotovely, has called a two-state solution an "illusion".

None of that is so dissimilar from statements made by other Israeli ministers throughout the occupation. For instance, former prime minister Ariel Sharon, back in 1998, summarised the official approach when he gave this advice to the settler movement: "Everyone there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand more territory. Everything that's grabbed will be in our hands."

As Palestinian commentators have noted, the only difference between Bennett and the current Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is that the former says this stuff out loud. Since it all began just after 1967, when Israel seized the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza following the Arab-Israeli war, this country has been committed to settlement expansion – knowing that such a policy would eviscerate the prospects of an independent Palestinian state, but doing it anyway. Indeed, Israel's settlements grew most during the Oslo peace process that began in 1993. Now, settlements have gone through another growth spurt and are on a seven-year high, which a senior Haaretz columnist has described as a spectacular suicide for Israel.

Maybe Bennett's comments are unfortunately timed, given the current attempts by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, to revive the zombie peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. But those "land is ours" remarks actually serve to highlight why the US mission is so doomed to begin with – despite some protestations I heard last week from commentators in Israel that Kerry had good intentions and was a "nice guy" (as though Palestinians want to date him, rather than be able to trust him as an honest broker).

Israeli settlement expansion is the one big obstacle to getting talks back on track, yet the US has consistently refused to tackle this escalating problem. At a press briefing last week, US spokeswoman Jen Psaki struggled to explain why the US considers settlements unhelpful yet doesn't ever penalise Israel for continuing with such a policy.

Settlements, not the start-up nation, not the innovations in science and not the cool navigation app just snapped up by Google are Israel's greatest project, its biggest national mission, its most financed venture. This project, and its attendant infrastructure and security, is what Israel is known for; it is, horrifyingly, what Israel does best. A terrible, addictive policy, settlements have eaten up Israeli resources, diverted entire government departments and kept the country trapped in an impoverished, stunting isolation. So in this context, let's not fake any surprise over Bennett's latest non-revelation. Let's focus instead on the transparent, self-destructive hubris of Israel's decades old policy: perpetuating the occupation, the settlements and all the attendant misery for everyone trapped in this nightmarish reality.

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