23:33 GMT01 December 2020
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    Weeks after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain inked their historic agreements with Israel, the Jewish state approved the construction of over 5,000 new settler homes on Wednesday and Thursday, following pressure applied on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from Orthodox circles.

    The approval of thousands of new settler homes last week was the first such go-ahead after Israel's decision to suspend its initial intention to extend its sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, and it came despite the requests of the Gulf nations, which asked that it halt the expansion of the Jewish state's settlement activity.

    The move has already triggered international condemnation, with five European countries slamming Israel's decision, and questions arise whether the UAE, which had justified the peace pact with Tel Aviv by saying it would stop Israel's “annexation” of Palestinian lands, would be willing to accept such conduct.

    Settlements Are Not a Problem

    But Professor Abraham Sion, a former chair of the Centre for Law and Mass Media at Ariel University, says the decision to build new residential units in the West Bank is unlikely to damage the newly-established relations with the Gulf.

    "The deal with the UAE is different from what we saw before. It is a real peace, done between people, not just governments, and as such it is much more effective and will be difficult to ruin," he believes.

    Sion doesn't believe Israel had given any promises to the Gulf nation that it would stop its expansion activity, simply because the Jewish state knows it would not be able to stick to its word.

    The reason for this is the country's natural growth and the housing needs of the local population.

    The Jewish presence in the West Bank, what's known as Judea and Samaria by many Israelis, has grown over the years.

    In 2010, for example, the West Bank housed some 300,000 Israelis, living in 121 settlements and about a hundred outposts, whereas ten years down the line, the region has registered nearly 500,000 Jewish residents.

    "It is a natural process. People get married, establish families and expand. And the state needs to provide them with housing. You cannot put this process on standstill," argued Sion.

    Ambiguous Oslo Accords

    If the agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority don't specify a clear decision on boundaries and settlement activity, the process of expansion will continue.

    Although the historic Oslo Accords signed between the two sides in 1993 stipulated Palestinian autonomy over major parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the agreements didn't solve the most crucial points of dispute. 

    Such was the case with Jerusalem, whose status has not been resolved, and such was the case with borders and settlements, the notion of which remains ambiguous.

    Throughout the years, Palestinians continued to blame Israel for not adhering to the deal reached in 1993, stressing that the Jewish state's successive governments continued to build settlements, defying international agreements but Sion claims these allegations were little more than a myth created by the PA.

    "Israel hasn't built one single new settlement since the Oslo Accords were signed. We did construct new neighbourhoods in existing towns and cities but either way, they have already been inhabited by Jews," says the expert.

    That, however, is not what Israel's left-wing NGOs contend.

    According to B'Tselem, an Israeli NGO that documents the deeds of the Israeli government and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, since 1967 and up until 2017, the Jewish state has established more than 200 settlements in the area. 

    While 110 of them were constructed without any official authorisation, 131 were recognised by Israel's Ministry of the Interior.

    That expansion has always been criticised by the Palestinians and the international community, which regards Israel's settlement activity as an obstacle for peace, but Sion rejects these allegations, pinning the blame on the Palestinian side.

    "It has nothing to do with Jewish settlements. The trouble is that the Palestinians are stubborn and they want the entire land for themselves, without any compromise. We offered them concessions before but they were all rejected, and this is exactly the reason why this conflict will not be solved because their leaders are not ready to budge."
    Jewish settlements, peace, Gaza Strip, Palestinians, West Bank Settlements, West Bank, Israel
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