The recent and immense Israeli project of the “separation wall” (or what Palestinians have come to know as the “apartheid wall”) has once again raised the specter of ongoing Israeli settlement expansion and the confiscation of Palestinian land. Palestinians have long considered these practices and the policy behind them the single most dangerous threat to the legitimate Palestinian right to self-determination. Settlement is not a new phenomenon that began with Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Confiscating and buying up land, building outposts and homes and bringing immigrants to live there is precisely how European Zionists gradually took over Palestinian land in what has now become Israel.
It is understandable then, that Palestinians are driven by a deep fear that this policy is strategically aimed at further consolidating Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, rendering it irreversible. The continuity of settlement during and in spite of the peace process deeply shook Palestinian confidence in a process that, in the Palestinian mind, was supposed to be about ending the occupation in exchange for an end to conflict, and the beginning of peace and security for both sides.
The recent takeover of the Israeli government by parties opposed to the peace process has offered Israelis who do not believe in territorial compromise a new opportunity to continue the rapid confiscation of land and the establishment and expansion of illegal Jewish colonies. This process has been aggravated to such an extent that many moderates from the peace camp--including one of the most moderate, Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyadh--now believe that the rate of expansion of these colonies has transformed the reality overnight and invalidated the possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. This, of course, annuls the possibility of a two-state solution, and in turn makes peace itself impossible.
The current settlement project of choice is the “separation wall.” This project will consolidate the past 35 years of settlement growth by building walls to divide Palestinian-populated areas from Jewish colonies that will be integrated with Israel. In spite of the Israeli attempt to give the impression that these walls are intended to strengthen the security of Israelis, it is not hard to see past the smokescreen. One foreign diplomat who conducted a field study of these walls sardonically dubbed them “Settlements Plus.”
While this Israeli government has yet to fulfill expectations that it might exploit the war in Iraq to expand its campaign of violence against Palestinians, it has quietly but vigorously pursued a combination of land confiscation and “closure” in order to build high cement walls in Jerusalem, Ramallah, the Jordan Valley and along the western side of the West Bank. It is a supreme irony that this project, which will for all intents and purposes render the Palestinian state impossible, is scheduled for completion even before the “road map” (which is supposed to be about creating a Palestinian state) even commences implementation. The lack of American attention and diplomatic protestation against this project places grave doubts on the credibility of the American call for an independent Palestinian state. Palestinians are left to wonder about the wisdom of their own strategic decision to seek a two-state solution.
Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
What threatens Israel's security: Saddam or settlements?
by Yossi Alpher
So far this war in Iraq, unlike its predecessor of 1991, is not keeping us awake at night. This time around, we don't have to deal with Scud missile attacks, wearing gas masks in sealed rooms. But that doesn't stop me from waking up every so often at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat.
No, I don't wake up because of Saddam Hussein and the threat posed by rogue states with missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The American war on Iraq, however problematic for much of the world, is for most of us in Israel a welcome attempt by a friend and ally to deal with a strategic danger that we have been struggling to cope with on our own for decades.
Nor do I worry about a mega-attack by an Islamic radical movement. The United States has determined that these same mortal enemies of Israel threaten vital American interests, and that too is good news for Israelis.
An onslaught by a coalition of hostile Arab armies? That last happened in 1973, and it's at the bottom of everyone's threat perception list.
Rather, I wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night because the government of Israel, with tacit American backing, is continuing to build and expand settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The settlements endanger not Israel's immediate physical security but its very essence as a Jewish and democratic state.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's first government, from 2001 to 2003, presided over the emergence of some 70 new "outposts" on hilltops in the West Bank; in fact these are by any standard nascent settlements. That government included a Labor Party component that ostensibly constrained settlement expansion.
Now, in Sharon's new government the housing ministry is in the hands of one far-right pro-settler party, the NRP, and the transportation ministry (which paves bypass roads so that 200,000 settlers can avoid contact with the three million Palestinians among whom they live) is in the hands of another, the National Union. We shall shortly witness even more energetic and unrestrained settlement construction, as Sharon and his allies deploy the settlements so as to create an unbreakable geographic interlock between Israelis and Palestinians. They seek to "win" the geographic battle to control the Land of Israel/Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Yet in the meantime we are losing the demographic battle. Jews are already a minority in the totality of these same lands--the State of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sharon aspires to maintain the Palestinian territories under long-term Israeli control precisely through the spread and proliferation of the settlements. He believes he can compel a Palestinian majority to live in a "state" that finds expression in a handful of disconnected enclaves that take up about 50 percent of the West Bank and are surrounded by settlements.
This plan is a non-starter. It is patently unacceptable to the world, and especially to Palestinians, who increasingly reply: "fine; if you Israelis no longer want a two-state solution, then we'll demand 'one man, one vote,' and eventually we'll rule everything."
Saddest of all for my sleepless nights, US President George W. Bush--who ostensibly advocates a two-state solution quite energetically through the "roadmap" concept--is encouraging Sharon and the settlers. The same President Bush who seeks to dispense with our rogue state aggressors and our radical Islamic terrorist enemies, is the first American president not to demand outright that Israel freeze settlement expansion forthwith. Instead he repeats, not once but twice in recent weeks (on February 26 and March 14) that only "as progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end."
As if restraining the senseless spread of settlements is merely a reward for Palestinian good behavior. As if progress toward peace can be made while the settlers celebrate their hilltop victories in the West Bank. As if Bush doesn't understand that Sharon and the settlers must be denied support because the Israel that so many Americans admire and support is in danger of losing its very soul.
As if the American Jewish community, whose votes Bush seeks, does not itself support a compromise two state solution and reject the settlers' path. As if the image of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state is not the single key aspiration that unites nearly all Israelis, Jews and friends of Israel.
As if Bush and his advisers never read "The March of Folly."
Yossi Alpher is a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.
bitterlemons: Since the forming of the new Israeli government has settlement expansion decreased, stopped or is it on the rise?
Tufakji: Israel has been focusing recently on housing units in Jerusalem and around Jerusalem, in what we call “metropolitan Jerusalem.” Near the green line around Jerusalem, there is new infrastructure being built for new housing units, but in the Jordan Valley or in the middle of the West Bank, the majority of the construction is near the main roads, or what Israel desires for its final status borders.
When you look at Modiin bloc [near Jerusalem], there is a new neighborhood and new housing unit under construction. Givat Zeev has a new neighborhood under construction that will create 654 housing units. According to the Israeli vision, Givat Zeev will eventually fall inside metropolitan Jerusalem. This is why Israel established the “separation line” and increased the settlement in this area. Near Modiin or what we call Latroun, Israel wants to annex this area and so it is expanding its settlement in this place.
The total number of settlers in the West Bank in 2002 was 205,000 settlers. In 2003, that population has grown to 218,000. In the Modiin bloc alone, the number of settlers has increased from 15,000 to 17,000--2,000 more. In Givat Zeev, the settlers in 2002 numbered 11,000; today they are 12,500.
bitterlemons: How does the Israeli government usually confiscate Palestinian land for settlements?
Tufakji: Most of the land settlements are being built on was confiscated many years ago. In Givat Zeev, the land was confiscated in 1979 and in Modiin, it was confiscated in 1990.
More recently, land has been confiscated to build bypass roads [that connect settlements], especially in the Hebron area and northwest of Jenin, in what we call the Rihani bloc. There, the Palestinians were told last year that this is “state land.” To confiscate land, Israel uses either a military order or a demand that it is needed for public purposes, or it says that this is “state land.” Although we often take these cases to court, the Palestinians almost always lose.
bitterlemons: Why can’t the Palestinians prove that they own the land?
Tufakji: They often have no documents saying that they own the land, because under Jordanian law or in the British Mandate period, they were given no documents stating that the land is registered. The Israeli court demands these documents, but the Palestinians can’t produce them.
bitterlemons: How does the “separation wall” fit into Israel’s settlement plan?
Tufakji: In its first phase, the wall that is now under construction started from T’anak and extended to Qalqilya. The new area that it creates between the new “separation line” and the old green line contains around 11 villages. Most of the land was not confiscated but placed defacto under Israeli control. The land of some 21 villages falls behind the line. This land is not declared “state land,” but falls under Israeli control.
After seeing the Taba and Camp David maps, I believe that this land will eventually be annexed to Israel. More or less, these are the same maps [as those being used to build the wall today]. According to the Taba and Camp David maps, Ariel and Kedumim will also fall on the Israeli side, cutting a wedge 20 kilometers into the West Bank.
The walls that will be built in the Jordan valley are from a map drawn in 1983 when Ariel Sharon was minister of defense. He created a map with two lines showing that the Jordan Valley would be under Israeli control and the west of the West Bank would be under Israeli control, and five more lines from west to east would be under Israeli control, thus dividing the West Bank into five pieces.
bitterlemons: Do you think that Palestinians have made any mistakes as they have tried to deal with the settlement issue?
Tufakji: We made all the mistakes possible. In Taba, our mistake was not looking at the map that was drawn at that time, according to Military Order #50. We Palestinians went to the Supreme Court and froze that order, but then at the Taba talks, Israel again used this map. So, as you can see, the West Bank now looks like a mosaic that is based on this map.
bitterlemons: What do you think that Palestinians can do now to combat settlement expansion?
Tufakji: We have drafted many scenarios for the settlements and perhaps they will fall under Palestinian sovereignty if we arrive at a real peace. Whether that is realistic or not, according to United Nations resolutions from 1967 until today, all of these settlements are illegal and it is our right to discuss their future.
bitterlemons: Do you think that the Israeli public really understands what is happening with settlements today?
Tufakji: If you go to Tel Aviv and you ask them where Ariel is, they don’t have any idea.
Khalil Tufakji is head of the mapping and survey department at the Orient House, which has been closed by Israeli authorities.
The declarations by the left wing organizations were threatening. "If Israel exploits the war in Iraq to carry out a transfer of Arabs," one of them stated, "this will be a war crime." Israel Defense Forces soldiers were warned "not to take part in war crimes lest they be placed on trial by the International Court." Additional manifestos warned that the new government would exploit the fog of battle to establish new settlements--also defined as illegal acts that it would be a crime to abet.
In reality, all the shooting was into the air. Israel, which in any event had no intention of expelling Arabs, in effect even ceased carrying out targeted assassinations. During the two weeks since the war in Iraq began, and despite pinpoint terrorism warnings from the police and the Shabak (General Security Service), the Palestinians' casualties were the lowest since their brutal terror war began. Even the bombing in Netanya on March 30, the twelfth there in two and half years, seems not to have altered this Israeli policy approach.
Paradoxically, the only "mini-transfer" carried out during the war has been against Jews. On March 25, late at night, soldiers and police broke into the home of the Ozeri family on a hill, known as hill 26, in Kiryat Arba, and terrified the widow and children of the late Yoni Ozeri, who was murdered around two months ago by Arab terrorists. They scattered everything in the house, as if they had burst into the home of terrorists, and dragged the mother and her children--who had still not recovered from the earlier terrorist trauma--out of the house. Friends of the dead husband who were sleeping in the house to protect the woman and her children were also removed by force and beaten by the troops.
Hill 26 is one of the so-called "illegal outposts." Some observers estimate that in the course of the past two and a half years since the conflict began, more than 100 such outposts have been established. One of them, the Gilead Ranch in Samaria, was the scene some four months ago of one of the worst events of recent years: soldiers and police who had been dispatched to evacuate the ranch on the orders of Labor Party Minister of Defense Binyamin Ben Eliezer, encountered strong resistance. The violent confrontation between the security forces and the young settlers, frequently called "hill youth," shocked the country.
Ben Eliezer, who was already planning the withdrawal of his party, Labor, from the national unity government headed by Ariel Sharon, thought he could reap political dividends from this act. But the forced evacuation, which initially appeared to help him politically, actually turned into the first act not only in his political decline--he was removed from the party leadership post--but in that of his party as well, which had ruled the country for so long: we recall that it suffered a painful defeat in the recent elections.
Many have asked themselves how a brutal evacuation like that of hill 26 could be carried out when the government is headed by Ariel Sharon and the Ministry of Defense by Shaul Mofaz. The mystery grows when we consider that the governing coalition includes National Religious Party ministers like Efi Eitam, who is described as an extreme rightist (the NRP received about one fourth of the settler vote in the last elections), as well as the National Union Party, which has adopted transfer as one of its slogans.
The answer to this question, as understood by the settler leadership, is in three parts:
1. Prime Minister Sharon wants to signal the United States president, who is under pressure concerning the roadmap from Arab states and from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, that he was sincere when he promised, at their last meeting in Washington, that there would be no new settlements. He picked the weakest link among the settlers: followers of Rabbi Kahane, one of whom was the late Ozeri, who enjoy minimal support among the settlers at large and are generally opposed by the traditional leadership of the Yesha Council (Council of the Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza).
2. This is also a broad hint to the settler activists: they will not be allowed to establish any more unauthorized outposts. If they do so, they will be treated like the residents of hill 26.
3. "Only a right wing government can deliver," i.e., the Gilead Ranch was the scene of a pitched battle because a minister of defense from the Labor Party, enemy of the settlements, gave the evacuation order. Faced with a similar directive from a right wing government that comprises the NRP and the National Union, the settlers would not dare indulge in violent opposition. Witness hill 26.
In private conversations, the heads of the NRP and the National Union state that they did not join the government to establish additional settlements. They understand that international circumstances prohibit such an option. We'll suffice, we hear them say, with preventing removal of the outposts, and certainly of veteran settlements. But they are not particularly hopeful at a time when the roadmap is evolving, with Sharon's concurrence and Likud backing, into the next peace process--what they call "the Likud's Oslo."
And the corollary, they predict, will be another bloody war.
Yisrael Harel is a Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem, a member of the Yesha Council Executive Committee, and a columnist for Ha'aretz.
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