On November 29th 2012, the United Nations voted in overwhelming support for an upgrade of the status of Palestine from a “non-member observer entity” to a “non-member observer state”, with 138 nations supporting the new measures; the combined population of the nine nations that voted against Palestinian statehood (including the US, Canada and Israel) makes up just 5% of the world’s total population. Less than 24 hours after the results of this vote, the Israeli government has announced its approval for the building of over 3,000 settlement homes in the West Bank. This is a clear message being sent from Netanyahu’s government that, regardless of Palestine’s new status, Israel will continue to violate international law by annexing further Palestinian territory.
A key part of these planned settlements is that many of them are intended for construction beside the continuously-expanding Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which was originally a Palestinian area in the West Bank where thousands of people have been forcibly evicted during the past two decades. The Israeli government has labelled the location of the new settlements as the E1 area – an estimated 4.6 square miles between Ma’ale Adumim and the Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem. The significance of this is that the new settlements are contributing to the eventual effective separation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; mutilating the contiguity of the state of Palestine.
Prior to the UN decision, our foreign secretary William Hague announced that Britain would abstain from voting on the subject – despite a YouGov poll indicating that 72% of Britons support the Palestinian state right to statehood. Hague previously indicated that he would vote favourably for the recognition of the state, but only on the condition that Palestine would immediately reopen peace talks with the Israeli government – a proposition vehemently opposed by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, who have refused to continue peace talks until the construction of illegal Israeli settlements are halted. The announcement of these new settlements exemplifies the lack of tangible change that the new Palestinian status actually has upon the actions of the Israeli government.
There was significant vocal US and Israeli opposition to the vote, especially the declaration by the Israeli foreign ministry that by asking for a UN vote, the Palestinians’ behaviour warranted “the harshest Israeli response”; these huge new settlement plans seem indicative of this threat. Considering that the vast majority of the world now clearly and formally recognises the validity of the United Nations’ 194th state, there is new hope that the international community may behave more actively in peacefully opposing the imperialist nature of Israeli policy in the state of Palestine – such as through the BDS practice of boycotts, divestment and international sanctions.