Unfortunately, the forced evacuation of a few hundred anarchic settler youth from a disputed building in Hebron ten days ago was not a turning point in the Israeli establishment's tolerance of the settler project in the West Bank. The circumstances were too unique. Nor is there an Israeli leader on the scene who is courageous enough to turn his or her fear of the settlers and recognition of the damage they are doing into a resolute campaign to stop them from eroding away at Israel's status as both a democratic and a Jewish state. The settlers seemingly remain hell bent on course toward scuttling any chance of a two-state solution.
True, the police, border police and IDF displayed an improved capacity in Hebron to take over a disputed building and remove its violent, messianic and anarchistic young squatters, most of them undisciplined "hilltop youth", with minimum damage and minimal casualties. This was the first such action since the fiasco of destroying seven "illegal" buildings in the illegal outpost of Amona more than two years ago. That operation produced heavy casualties, generated a violent settler reaction and deterred the Olmert government from attempting further evacuations of outposts. The Hebron operation restores faith in the capacity of the security community to remove settlers.
Yet it seems pathetic to be praising the security forces for such a simple operation.
Nor should we exaggerate in praising the political establishment for undertaking the forced evacuation. After all, the current election campaign made life easier for Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, who contrived to launch the Hebron operation as a successful surprise both politically and operationally. Israel has a transition government that cannot, constitutionally, be toppled over this or any other act. Had Barak ordered the evacuation during ordinary times, Shas would probably have brought down the government. So his show of determination against a fringe of the population not likely to vote for him anyway has to be taken with a grain of salt.
Worse, where was the heavy Israeli security contingent in Hebron when the extremist settlers responded to the evacuation by marauding through Arab Hebron (by far the larger part of the city), torching houses and cars, shooting and stoning? It was well known that the extremist settlers had put a "price tag" on every act by the state against them. Yet the violence and the defacing of mosques and Muslim cemeteries began before the evacuation and were allowed to continue for a day or two afterward, not only in Hebron but elsewhere in the West Bank as well.
Thus both the extremist settlers and the security community could be said to have "scored points" in Hebron. On the other hand the settler mainstream--those tens of thousands who tut-tut about the rampaging hilltop youth and their few thousand active settler allies but have never lifted a finger against them, and whose messianic ideology inevitably produced them--lost points, as more and more Israelis became disgusted with the entire settler enterprise.
But there was only one net loser at Hebron: the moderate Palestinian Authority government and the security forces that it has, with American, European and Jordanian assistance, trained and deployed throughout the West Bank. The Hebron battalion of those forces was obliged to stand aside while Jews rampaged the streets they normally patrol, lest they violate their mandate by confronting Israeli citizens.
The performance of those forces in Jenin, Nablus and Hebron had thus far won the universal praise of Arabs, Israelis and third parties who see their deployment as a major confidence-building measure and building block for eventual political agreements. After the events in Hebron, their success has become more difficult to sustain. Hamas was obviously aware of this when it renewed Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel. It could at one and the same time show solidarity with Arab Hebronites and embarrass the PA's security forces.
Until now it was understood (e.g., in phase I of the roadmap) that Palestinian security-building and Israeli dismantling of settlements and outposts should take place more or less simultaneously. Lately this has not been the case: while Palestinian security forces are not tackling terrorism, they have at least restored law and order to West Bank cities; Israel, on the other hand, has not dismantled any outpost of significance.
Now we may have to conclude that the Palestinian security forces cannot be expected to generate genuine security, in the sense even of protecting Palestinian civilians, as long as settlers are around. That possibility presupposes a very different order of separating Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank as a significant step toward a two-state solution, with removal of settlers coming first. Otherwise, the entire Palestinian security-rebuilding enterprise could lose a serious measure of credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian people.
Yet for settlers to be removed first, or for that matter even last, one of two things must happen. Either an Israeli leader will emerge with sufficient courage and political backing not to fear a new "Altalena"--another life or death conflict with extremist Jews that risks drawing Jewish blood, as David Ben Gurion did in sinking an Irgun arms ship off the Tel Aviv coast in 1948. Or the proponents of an international force as an instrument of implementing a two-state solution will have to redefine that force's objectives to include the forcible removal of settlers whom the state of Israel put in place . . . but is incapable of removing.- Published 15/12/2008 © bitterlemons.org
The recent settler violence in Hebron, which was described by Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, as a pogrom, brought to the attention of Israelis and Palestinians the grave danger that settlements and settlers represent.
But the riots in Hebron were in fact different only in terms of the level of violence. Otherwise they were part of an orchestrated campaign of settler violence that has been in increasing evidence this past year. The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot reported 675 violent incidents by Jewish settlers in the West Bank, mainly against Palestinian citizens, but also against Israeli soldiers.
The large-scale and organized nature of these activities indicates that they are not spontaneous, scattered and individual initiatives but rather the result of a political position that aims at achieving political objectives.
This would not be the first time settlers and settlements are deliberate political pawns, whether for their own aims or those of Israel. Over the years, Israeli governments have used the settler presence in the occupied Palestinian territories at certain times in order to achieve specific political objectives.
Indeed, the settlement project was started as a political strategy with which to indicate Israel's intention to hang on to certain parts of the West Bank. Later, particularly in the mid-1980s and under Likud governments, the settlement project became intentionally arbitrary, an indication that actually Israel intended to hold on to all the occupied West Bank. That's when settlements expanded everywhere.
The recent negotiations and the news emanating about a solution that might differentiate between settlement blocs that Israel wants to annex at the expense of small and scattered settlements, seem to have provoked the increasingly powerful right-wing pro-settler groups in Israel. These groups want to put an enormous price tag on any retreat in the settlement process.
It is difficult to blame settlers for strongly opposing any intention by their government to evacuate settlements or even this single Palestinian house at a time when Israel is still encouraging settlement expansion elsewhere. The first step to dealing with settler aggression has to be a new, clear and decisive policy of ending the expansion of settlements generally. Such a message might help persuade all concerned parties, including settlers, that there is sincere determination in Israel to end this problem once and for all.
A continued Israeli settlement expansion policy will only encourage settler appetite for more land and more violence. And it must not be forgotten that most violence between the two sides has indeed been initiated by settlers, from the attempted assassinations of Palestinian mayors in the 1970s, the spate of stabbings in the 1980s to the massacre of 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron in 1994 by Baruch Goldstein.
This is, of course, in parallel to the systematic violence of the Israeli army, either against individuals, mostly civilians, or against property and its demolition of Palestinian houses.
Although violence of all kinds and from all parties should be condemned, especially when directed against civilians, it is hard to ignore certain differences. Jewish settler violence is undertaken under the protection of the Israeli army and by a group of people living illegally on land that belongs to the indigenous population. Palestinian violence, no matter how egregious, is undertaken by a people under occupation and whose land and lives are under daily threat.
The presence and expansion of settlements together with the activities of settlers, violent and aggressive as they are, have shown that the settlement phenomenon is the biggest and most dangerous threat to any potential peace and co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis. Ending the expansion of settlements and eventually evacuating the occupied territories of settlers in order to allow for an independent Palestinian state to emerge are prerequisites for a peaceful solution.- Published 15/12/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning. He holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Judea and Samaria syndrome
by Barry Rubin
There is no excuse for those settlers who recently attacked and vandalized Palestinian people and property in Hebron and elsewhere. They should be arrested, put on trial and, if found guilty, punished. Without question, they only harm Israel's citizens and interests by such behavior.
At the same time, though, it should be remembered that this riot happened because Israel's government removed settlers from a building in Hebron. That is, this was an attempt to limit settlements, keep Israeli commitments and hold open options for a peace agreement in which far more settlements would be dismantled.
Beyond the immediate headlines about these incidents, several important points should be kept in mind.
It is simply not true to say that settlements are the main, or even a main barrier to peace. Most obviously, if settlements are so atrocious in Palestinian eyes, this should be an incentive to making an agreement that would eliminate them. If, for example, the Palestinian leadership had agreed to begin serious negotiations at Camp David or accepted the Clinton plan in 2000, today there would be an independent Palestinian state with no Jewish settlements existing on its territory.
Second, the removal of settlements in the past has not sparked any change in Palestinian positions or behavior on such issues as terrorism or official incitement to anti-Israel violence. The Israeli government dismantled all settlements and withdrew from the Gaza Strip with the result of, first, undiminished Palestinian hostility and, second, the Hamas takeover. Indeed, abandoned settlements in Gaza were turned into bases for launching more attacks on Israel.
What is often forgotten is that the government at the same time dismantled settlements in several areas of the West Bank and announced its willingness to withdraw completely from more territory there. This, too, made no difference in the situation and there was no Palestinian Authority response that encouraged further such measures.
The main barrier to peace, of course, is the inability and unwillingness of the PA leadership to make a comprehensive agreement leading to a two-state solution coupled with an end to conflict and violence along with the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state.
We are thus in a long interim period in which the hopes of comprehensive peace are zero, despite the unrealistic talk about peace being at hand if only some new gimmick is implemented or Israel makes enough unilateral concessions.
Yet even though a fully successful diplomatic process is not possible--indeed, because of that fact--Israel has several policy priorities. One is to show the world that it is striving to build toward ultimate peace. A second is to limit friction with the Palestinians in the West Bank, reducing violence and loss of life whenever possible, while a third is to maximize cooperation with the PA on easing the situation and reining in violence.
In addition, a fourth consideration is to preserve the best possible strategic situation for the Israeli army to operate in a way that minimizes casualties. One of the main reasons for the earlier redeployments was to improve the lines of defense for the country and avoid highly risky situations for soldiers. The actions of settlers, especially the creation or expansion of isolated settlements and the resulting need to secure additional roads, places not only settlers but also soldiers' lives at risk.
At all times it must be made clear that it is Israel's government and not vigilantism or the decisions of settlers that will determine policy. This is not to criticize or demonize all or even most of the settlers, who have been law-abiding, but it is well known that there are extremist forces at work that endanger Israel's security, seek to engage in reprehensible actions and even view Israel's government as an enemy. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was the ultimate expression of that malady, which we could call the Judea and Samaria syndrome.
In that psychological illness known as the Jerusalem syndrome, people who go to that holy city are convinced that they are messiahs, prophets or various biblical figures. Judea and Samaria syndrome has somewhat parallel effects. Sufferers believe that settling the land will bring the messiah, that they are the saviors of Israel and that the country's elected leaders are fools or traitors.
One irony of Judea and Samaria syndrome is that it turns people who are nominally the most dedicated Zionists into anti-Zionists. That is, for the existence of a strong, healthy Jewish state they substitute the idol of possessing this or that specific piece of real estate whose ownership becomes more important than anything else. They take into their own hands decisions that do not belong to them. In some cases, they would prefer to stay in Hebron rather than to live in Israel. Again, these points only address a small minority of settlers but they have become a significant force.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the acceptance of the settlements as a national imperative and as a good thing was widespread in Israel. Today, that is not so. Political support for both settlement and the settlers in general has fallen steeply.
After the peace hopes of the 1990s were dashed, the attitude today is one of pragmatism. Israel will hold onto territories for security until there is a full peace. At the same time, it is recognized that this peace is far off. Additional settlement serves no purpose and--depending on the political perspective of the individual Israeli--many, most or all will be dismantled some day after a negotiated agreement is achieved and implemented.
Will settler violence or threats prevent that from happening? Not at all. The prize of real peace is so great that the country would not let a tiny minority prevent it from happening. Equally, however, the country will not take risks, make sacrifices and face such an internal conflict in return for anything short of full, real, equitable and lasting peace.- Published 15/12/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Not an isolated incident
by Saed Shukhy
The settler riots earlier this month were some of the worst instances of violence in Hebron in many years. But they were not isolated incidents and cannot be divorced from the brittle situation in Hebron that is a direct result of the city's fanatic settler presence nor the provocation of the settlement project in occupied Palestinian territory in general.
When the Israeli army on December 4 finally implemented an Israeli court order to vacate settlers from a Palestinian house near the Kiryat Arab settlement that had been taken over a year-and-a-half earlier, it sparked a night of violence that was only barely contained by Israeli soldiers.
Four Palestinians were shot and dozens injured while settlers ran rampant, torching houses and cars and damaging some 150 olive trees. The army did little to protect Palestinians in the area and for those Palestinian families who live in or near the Kiryat Arba settlement it was a night of terror that reminded many of the massacre of 29 Palestinians at prayer in 1994 by Baruch Goldstein, a fanatic settler from Kiryat Arba who has since become a hero to many rightwing settlers.
And while the house in question was vacated of settlers and the violence ultimately contained--not least because of the Israeli and international media focus that shone an unwelcome spotlight on the behavior of these settlers--such violence, albeit on a smaller scale, is a daily occurrence for Palestinians in Hebron.
Not a day goes by when settlers do not abuse, whether verbally or physically, local Palestinians. Not a day goes by without a new graffiti that insults Islam or otherwise provokes Hebronites. And in all this, the Israeli army is complicit, standing idly by as armed settlers behave as if they are a law unto themselves in Hebron. Which, of course, they are.
Hebron, part of the largest Palestinian governorate, is home to some 140,000 Palestinians and the city, as per the Hebron agreement of 1997, is divided into two sectors, H1 and H2. In H2, the center of Hebron, there are 30,000 Palestinians living under Israeli security control because of the presence of five small settlements, home to some 400 Jewish settlers, as well as Kiryat Arba to the east, home to some 7,000 settlers.
But the laws are not equal for the two populations. While the 30,000 Palestinians live under military rule, settlers live under the full protection of Israeli civil law. This is the case across the occupied Palestinian territories, but as a result of their close proximity in Hebron, the separate laws for separate peoples are much more clearly in evidence here.
The Hebron agreement also explains the absence of Palestinian security forces in the center, where they are not allowed to operate. The Palestinian Authority had only recently, and to much fanfare, deployed a large security contingent in Hebron. Barred by direct orders as well as that agreement from interfering, these forces stood by idle as settlers ran amok.
Hebronites understand that it would have caused enormous problems should Palestinian forces have interfered. Nevertheless, the question many asked, is why have security forces that are not able to provide security for their own people? Whose security, then, are these forces there to ensure?
Anger was also directed at Palestinian officials, whose promises of compensation did little to alleviate local frustration. Hebronites feel that the PA has long been unwilling to support families that are directly affected by the extraordinary and unsustainable situation their close proximity to these fanatic settlers, who are illegally squatting on occupied territory, puts them in. While compensation for damages is welcome, it is seen as a reaction rather than a policy.
Ultimately, the entire set-up of the settler project in Hebron is only an egregious version of the settlement project throughout occupied territory. But the presence of such a fanatic contingent of settlers makes it imperative that they be removed sooner rather than later, overall agreement or none. Their presence is an explosion waiting to happen.- Published 15/12/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Saed Shukhy is a Hebron-based journalist who works with al-Hurriya radio.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.