Israel’s illegal settlement expansion has triggered a rare warning from the US, which has issued a red-line over the illegal West Bank outpost of Homesh. The far-right Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing for the legalization of the outpost in defiance of Washington. This could lead to further clashes with the administration of President Joe Biden.
“The Homesh outpost in the West Bank is illegal,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said yesterday. “It is illegal to even under Israeli Law. Our call to refrain from unilateral steps certainly includes any decision to create a new settlement, to legalize outposts, or allow the building of any kind deep in the West Bank, adjacent to Palestinian communities or on private Palestinian land.”
Successive US administrations have turned a blind eye to Israel’s illegal settlement construction. However, the matter of outpost legalization is said to be one issue against which the Biden administration has said explicitly that it will push back, alongside any unilateral actions that Washington believes harm the two-state solution and the status quo arrangements at the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
It’s not obvious why the US makes a distinction between illegal, Jew-only settlements that have a total population of 700,000, and “illegal outposts”. Although both are a clear violation of international law, settlements for Jews only are legal under Israeli law, while “illegal outposts” are also illegal under Israeli law. Israel differentiates between settlement homes built and permitted by the Defence Ministry on land claimed to be owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.
Israeli settlements often begin life as illegal outposts. It is a colonial strategy practiced by every settler colonial state in their takeover of land and territory belonging to the indigenous population. In the case of Homesh, the illegal outpost was established in 1978 on confiscated land belonging to Palestinian residents of the nearby village of Burqa. It’s one of the countless ways in which Israel has created facts on the ground and rubber-stamped its immoral and illegal settler-colonialism.
Homesh was evacuated along with three other West Bank settlements when Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The Disengagement Law prohibits Israelis from entering Homesh without special permission. However, Netanyahu and far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir have agreed to amend the 2005 Disengagement Law which would legalize the Homesh outpost. In May, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party threatened to bring down his coalition government if it moved ahead with evacuating the illegal settlement of Homesh.
Now the far-right coalition government is said to have agreed that it will provide the infrastructure needed for these settlements within 60 days of taking office. Palestinian leaders and supporters have expressed outrage and global concerns about Israel’s new government persist amid this development.