Israeli settler violence against Palestinians has long been a daily occurrence, but now the attacks are becoming more ferocious as they are backed by senior figures in the Israeli government. This month the new Israeli government voiced support for a heinous settler attack and advanced the Israeli settlement enterprise, despite growing international criticism.
On 26 February an unprecedented settler attack on Huwwara and its surrounding villages shocked Palestine and drew condemnation from many places abroad, including the United States. At around 2:30 p.m., an hour after two Israeli settlers were killed in Huwwara, Israeli settlers from the many notorious settlements nearby began gathering in Huwwara, attacking Palestinians and destroying their property while Israeli soldiers protected them. Over the next several hours one Palestinian was killed, more than 200 wounded, at least 75 homes and businesses damaged, and more than 265 cars set on fire.
PA president Mahmoud Abbas called the raids in and around Huwwara terrorism, Palestinian member of the Knesset (MK) Ahmad Tibi compared the raid to Kristallnacht, and several media outlets labeled the mob assault a pogrom. The U.S. called on Israel to provide compensation to the Palestinian victims. Meanwhile, Israeli MK and member of the Jewish Power Party Zvika Fogel called the raid a useful deterrence and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said of the event “this is not the way. Our enemies need to be crushed by the Israeli government.” A week after the attacks, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also this month was appointed de facto governor of the occupied West Bank, said in a speech on 1 March that the Israeli state should “wipe out” Huwwara.
The Israeli government legalized nine settlement outposts on 12 February, and on 22 and 23 February it advanced 7,157 new settlement housing units. The decision to legalize the nine settlement outposts prompted an immediate response from the international community, and a UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on the issue was convened on 20 February. A draft resolution demanding that Israel ceases its settlement activity was shelved, reportedly after the U.S. offered the PA a White House meeting with President Biden, movement on the U.S. consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem, additional aid, and a non-binding UNSC presidential statement supported by the U.S. “expressing concern and dismay.” Despite the widespread condemnation, including from many of Israel’s allies, the Israeli government advanced the 7,157 new housing units in the days that followed, 1,900 of which were given final approval while the rest were advanced for deposit. (Note that the Israeli government advanced 8,072 settlement housing units in 2021 and 2022 combined.)
In parallel with these developments, the U.S., Egypt, and Jordan sought to convince the Israeli government to pause its escalation in settlement expansion and displacement of Palestinians, in exchange for the PA putting on hold its attempts to work through international organizations to hold Israel accountable. On the day of the settler attacks in Huwwara, officials from the four countries plus the PA met in Aqaba, Jordan, and a joint statement signaled that Israel and the PA were ready to pause “unilateral measures” for three to six months. This, however, was quickly dismissed first by Finance Minister Smotrich and later by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom said that Israel would not freeze its settlement expansion.
The international community’s response to Israel’s human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories this month was easily ignored by Israel. The United States supported a UNSC statement criticizing Israel for its settlement expansion, and Israel responded by announcing new settlement units, further entrenching the occupation. The current Israeli government seems insusceptible to international criticism, and some government ministers, like Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, seem to thrive on it politically as long as their supporters are not directly negatively impacted.