by Alessandro de Pascale

On 26 June, the defence ministry’s planning committee approved a plan by the right-wing Israeli Government of Benjamin Netanyahu to build 5,700 new settler homes in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, which is illegal under international law. It is unclear when work will begin, but it could be quick as the executive has streamlined procedures. The Jewish State is set to break all records this year. With this additional planned housing, the number of planned settlements in 2023 will exceed 13,000, surpassing the previous record of 12,159 new settler homes in 2020. By decision of the sixth Netanyahu government, the most right-wing in Israel’s 75-year history, the power to plan new settlements has passed entirely into the hands of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, himself an Israeli settler in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He has already pledged to double the number of settlers in these territories, where more than 700,000 Israelis already live.

The Jewish state captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six Day War, which it won against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. After the war, UN Resolution 242 ordered Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories. Fifty-six years later, Israel has not returned the territories to their rightful owners and has continued to occupy them militarily. Its control over them has then been extended through the construction of new illegal settlements for colonists and the confinement of Palestinians behind walls and in ‘open-air prisons’, starting with that of the Gaza Strip, described as the largest in the world, which no one can enter or leave without the permission of Israel, which now bases its very existence on the defence of the land it has won and occupied. The Palestinians claim all three of these territories for their future independent Arab state, with Jerusalem as its capital, to coexist with the Jewish state, as envisaged in the hypothetical agreement discussed at the Annapolis conference in November 2007.

Both the international community and the United States (Tel Aviv’s historic ally) have criticised the decision to build these 5,700 new homes for settlers. The administration of US President Joe Biden has become increasingly outspoken in its criticism of this Israeli policy, reversing the course of his predecessor Donald Trump, who decided to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Yesterday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said: “We are simply concerned about reports of changes in the Israeli settlement administration system that accelerate the planning and approval of settlements, which we have shared with the Israeli government”. The White House has not yet invited Netanyahu to Washington for the routine post-election visit (he was elected in November and his government took office the following month).

The new settlements add to a wave of violence against Palestinians that has been ongoing for over a year. On 19 June, Israeli security forces raided the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. The raid lasted 11 hours on 19 June and was believed to be one of the largest since the second intifada in 2002: for the first time in 20 years, Israeli forces even used helicopter gunships. The United Nations has criticised Israel’s use of “advanced military weapons”. According to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Ministry of Health, at least seven Palestinians (including two minors) were killed by Israeli forces and more than 100 were wounded, 20 of them in serious or critical condition. In the aftermath of the raid, four Israelis were killed by two Palestinian gunmen who opened fire near an illegal Jewish settlement, and there have been reports of a series of attacks by armed Israeli settlers on West Bank villages.

On 27 June, the UN Security Council called on “all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that further inflame tensions” and urged restraint to prevent further escalation. For UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland, “Israel, as the occupying power, must protect Palestinians and their property in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to ensure prompt, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into all acts of violence”. Following a series of deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis, the Jewish state launched a massive military campaign in the occupied West Bank in early 2022 which still goes on. Since the beginning of 2023, at least 174 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. This compares with 24 killed in Palestinian-led attacks.

The President of the Palestinian National Authority Abu Mazen, who has ruled the West Bank since 2005 (succeeding the late Yasser Arafat), is increasingly embattled and unpopular with his people, who see him as too cooperative and compliant with the Jewish state. He is also often accused in Palestinian circles of seeking an Arab state limited to East Jerusalem, Gaza and Judea/Samaria. His popularity is so low that legislative elections in the West Bank have now been postponed for 17 years, according to his critics, for fear that they will be won by Hamas rivals, as happened in the Gaza Strip in 2006. On 18 June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that an agreement had been reached between the Jewish State, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt to “develop” a marine gas field off the coast of Gaza (territory under Hamas control and waters that have been ‘occupied’ by Tel Aviv and Cairo forces through a naval blockade since 2007). This decision has led to a new criticism of Abu Mazen and his relations with the occupier.

Cover image: Israeli construction on confiscated Palestinian land ©Ryan Rodrick Beiler/