The policy of establishing and expanding settlements may well be the only constant in Israeli practices on occupied Palestinian territory since 1967. Yet it is possible to discern several distinct phases in this policy depending on the party in power in Israel.
In the early years of the occupation, the settlement policy of Israel in the occupied territories was determined by the Labor Party's vision of future Palestinian-Israeli relations. Labor aimed at a future final settlement based on territorial division, first between Israel and Jordan and later between Israel and the Palestinians. Thus, settlement building was concentrated in the parts of the Palestinian territory the Labor Party wanted to ensure Israel would not give up in any final agreement, such as East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and certain areas of the West Bank adjacent to the 1948 borders near Qalqiliya and Tulkarm, as well as areas on top of aquifers.
The rest of the territories, particularly areas with dense Palestinian population concentrations, were left settlement-free on the assumption that some of these would eventually be given up as part of a territorial-based solution.
But with the first Likud-led government in 1977, there was a significant and strategic shift in the settlement policy. Likud's vision of future Palestinian-Israeli relations was based on Israel maintaining a certain level of control over all the occupied territories with a view to any solution being founded on a functional rather than territorial division.
In order to ensure territorial control over all areas, the Likud thus expanded the areas of Jewish settlements into the West Bank's interior, regardless of population density or security considerations. The climax of that approach was during the 1980s when Ariel Sharon was minister of infrastructure, a portfolio that included settlements, and during which Israel's settlement policy became completely arbitrary. Infamously, Sharon called on Israelis to "grab the hilltops".
But this not only adversely affected the lives of Palestinians: it created an unmanageable security burden for Israel and significantly complicated any future political negotiations for a peaceful settlement.
Settlements are not just one of the components of the conflict or one of the different issues for negotiations for final status as determined by the Oslo Declaration of Principles (that also includes Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees and water). Settlements touch on most of the other final status issues. The issue of borders, for example, is from an Israeli perspective largely determined by the location of settlements. Jerusalem has a major settlement component, while the issue of water is also related to settlements, many of which were located exactly to ensure Israeli control over water resources.
In addition, the settlement issue is a complicating factor in any attempt to resolve the security situation. With settlements located willy-nilly across Palestinian territory, including between the different densely populated Palestinian areas, the security situation can only be resolved, from an Israeli perspective, at the expense of Palestinian freedom of movement and territorial contiguity, a clearly unacceptable situation.
What the last 40 years of Israeli settlement policy does teach us is that settlements have been used by Israel as an instrument to secure its occupation of Palestinian territory. Thus it is possible to conclude that since any peace agreement requires an end to this occupation, the settlement issue is the main obstacle to peace.
Maybe the most important attempt to reach peace in recent years that was accepted by Israelis, Palestinians and almost everybody else, the 2003 roadmap, failed to move things forward mainly because of settlements. The first phase of the roadmap states that Israel should "immediately dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and, consistent with the Mitchell Report, freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)".
Since the roadmap was issued and signed, not only has Israel failed to move toward fulfilling its obligations under phase I, but new settlement outposts have been built and existing settlements continue to expand. Yet now, with the most recent American attempt to renew peace efforts at Annapolis, the only thing the parties were able to agree on is the exact thing that they failed to implement in the last four years, i.e., the implementation of the first phase of the roadmap.
One of the best explanations for why, in spite of significant progress, Oslo ultimately failed is that Israel insisted to build and expand settlements. The settlements contradict the very essence of what the peace process is about. If the international community does not do whatever it takes to convince and prevent Israel from continuing its settlement project, the Annapolis process will meet the same fate as Oslo.- Published 31/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org
When it comes to the interaction between successive Israeli governments and the outposts, two sets of facts appear unassailable.
First, the last two prime ministers of Israel have given the United States and the Palestinian leadership solemn commitments regarding the removal of several dozen so-called "unauthorized" outposts in the West Bank. These outposts are patently illegal even by the warped standards of official Israeli licensing procedures regarding settlement construction, with which the mainstream settler leadership has concurred; in many cases they were built on private Palestinian land. The Annapolis understandings recommit Israel to remove outposts under phase I of the roadmap, starting now.
Second, a complex set of circumstances renders it extremely difficult for Israeli governments to fulfill their clear and obvious obligation to remove the outposts. The weak and convoluted nature of most governing coalitions, including the current one, gives the religious and secular right a kind of veto power. The settlers' hold on key positions in military and government units that deal with the West Bank provides them with influence, infrastructure and early warning intelligence. The outpost settlers' sense of messianic mission empowers them to invoke violence against their fellow Jews who are sent to remove them and then to appeal to the High Court to restrain the resultant "police violence". And most significantly, the outpost settlers' superior knowledge of the terrain, coupled with the fact that the land from which an outpost was removed remains under Israeli control and in close proximity to additional settlements, enables the settlers to return repeatedly and rebuild the outpost until they have worn down the resistance of the authorities and the security community.
Thus has the Olmert government, which on this issue represents a clear majority of Israelis, been stymied on the outpost question. So frustrated are its efforts that it has reportedly even sent Deputy PM Haim Ramon to bargain with the right wing opposition and suggest that the government will forego outpost removal in return for acquiescence in a plan to offer long-term financial incentives for settlers living "beyond the fence" to leave voluntarily.
One can, of course, find fault with Olmert for undertaking commitments and accepting a process that even a third-rate political observer knew it could not deliver on, just as we can query the capacity of the Abbas/Fayyad government in the West Bank to deliver on security, reform and institution-building. But what of the outposts? Even looking beyond the problematic Annapolis process, will the Israeli majority enable a messianic minority of settlers to doom Israel to a demographic nightmare and prevent it from remaining a Jewish and democratic state?
The solution appears to lie in the lessons of experience. When Israel dismantled its settlements in the Gaza Strip in mid-2005, among them were several outposts that were also leveled. No settlers have attempted since then to rebuild in Gaza; the land has remained under Palestinian control. Clearly, this is one successful way to dismantle outposts and settlements. Unfortunately, Palestinian extremists interpreted the Gaza evacuation as a sign of Israeli weakness and have been attacking Israeli territory from Gaza ever since, thereby discrediting the Gaza withdrawal in the eyes of the Israeli public.
A second mode of successful settlement dismantling took place in mid-2005 in the northern West Bank. Four settlements were removed and the entire area they occupied was declared off-limits to settlers. The latter have tried repeatedly to return and rebuild and the IDF has thwarted their attempts. A kind of ritual has developed whereby young messianic settlers exploit holidays like Hanukah and Pesach to try to return and establish outposts on the ruins of the settlements and the IDF removes them. Hopefully, one day soon the Palestinian Authority security forces will prove capable of taking over this territory. Until then, this settlement-removal solution is an acceptable outcome.
The third mode is the least successful: sending large contingents of police and soldiers to remove a few structures from an outpost in the heart of the West Bank. The settlers' response, detailed above, frustrates the effort. The coalition is endangered, the security forces complain of the cost of confronting extremist fellow Jews, and the settlers chalk up a moral and political victory.
What can we learn from this cumulative experience? The best way to remove outposts in accordance with our obligations and strategic needs is to evacuate the settlements and the outposts in an entire section of territory, like Gaza, and deliver it over to the Palestinian Authority. But in view of the Gaza experience, this cannot be done unless and until Israel is convinced that a responsible PA government and effective security force can replace the IDF. Until that time, the territory should be treated like northern Samaria.
But evacuating entire sections of West Bank territory goes beyond roadmap phase I; it belongs to phase III, the establishment of a Palestinian state in a defined territory. The Olmert and Abbas governments have agreed, with Washington's blessings, to discuss phase III of the roadmap even as they implement phase I. When it comes to the outposts, and in view of all the weaknesses and constraints in Israel's performance, they have to go one step further.
They have to discuss ways to integrate phases I and III on a partial territorial basis. Israel would undertake to evacuate the settlements and outposts in a given territorial sector that both sides agree is destined to become part of an eventual Palestinian state, but the IDF would continue to control that territory until Palestinians prove capable of governing it peaceably. That way, Israel would fulfill its obligations, gain the vital demographic benefit and the peace process would be advanced, but Israeli security would not be compromised.- Published 31/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
When you can't choose your neighbors
by Fadi Abu Sada
Not long ago, and not much more than a 100 meters from the house in which I grew up and where I still live, lay the greenest hill around Bethlehem. Jebel Abu Gheneim is no longer green. Instead the view--and so much more--has been spoiled by Bethlehem-area settlement number 19, better known as Har Homa.
Har Homa was originally designed to house 60,000 settlers, a figure that does not include the 750 new "housing units" Israel is now planning to add to it. The number 19 signifies the number of settlements encircling Bethlehem.
Surrounding this eyesore is an army road. This road is off limits to locals. We cannot cross it or near it. We cannot pick our olives at harvest time. The road is in constant use by Israeli army jeeps that waste little opportunity to disturb us with their horns and loudspeakers.
Living next to Har Homa for so long, I have been able to observe the transformation of this once green hill. It is odd to think that it took us 25 years to have lights installed on the main road from my house to nearby Beit Sahour, or Shepherds' Field, while, since only 2002, Jebel Abu Gheneim has been transformed into a mountain of light and concrete.
But the energy with which the Israeli government provides for its settlers on our land is the least of the worries for those of us living nearby. More immediate concerns arise when we have to take our children to hospital and there is a closure, or fighting breaks out. When, as a father, you are prevented from looking after your own children, you soon realize the anger that powerlessness can bring and the shame of not even being able to explain to your children why their lives are so precarious.
Of course, Bethlehem has it better than other places. In Hebron, 400 settlers live in the middle of the city amid half a million Palestinians, destroying the commercial center in the old city and making inhabitants' lives hell. This happens under the protection of an Israeli army that answers to a government that now claims it is serious in suing for peace with us.
The latest research by The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem shows that nine new settlement outposts were established since the November 2007 Annapolis conference kick-started negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis on reaching a final settlement. At the end of 2006, the total number of settlements on occupied territory numbered 144.
As such, these "final status" negotiations have not yet gone beyond the settlement issue, and matters get worse every time a new tender is announced and Israel clarifies exactly what it intends to happen to these settlements. Jerusalem, for example, is a "special case" because Israel considers that it has annexed the whole city and therefore settlements there are not covered by obligations under the roadmap. Meanwhile, Israel also considers only settlement outposts illegal. All other settlements were established with government approval and therefore must, at a minimum, be allowed construction for "natural growth".
But all settlements in occupied territory are illegal according to international law (and this includes occupied East Jerusalem). And although the Palestinian side has agreed to discuss settlements in negotiations, the fact that Israel is unwilling to freeze all settlement construction (natural growth, inward growth or whatever other pseudonym for expansion Israeli officials use) is a signal to most Palestinians that this issue is preordained and Israel has no intention of negotiating the fate of settlements.
The settlement issue should be fairly straightforward to resolve, compared to other issues such as water, borders and refugees. Yet, the establishment of settlements ended the hope of Oslo and could well end hopes for this round of negotiations.
I still believe that peace can be reached one day. I believe there are hundreds of possible solutions not only for the settlements but for all the issues. But every time I look out my window at the neighbors that were imposed on me I find it more and more difficult to convince myself.- Published 31/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Fadi Abu Sada is director of the Palestine News Network, PNN.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
by Itai Harel
I built my home in the hills of the land of Binyamin: my homeland in the historic, national and personal sense. I live in the pure and absolute belief that this is the only way my children and grandchildren and the children of all of Israel for generations to come can live in the Land of Israel. Israel's declaration of independence is both a Zionist vision and a remarkably simple promise of survival: my people have no other place in which to live and develop.
The Arabs of the Land of Israel, if they so desire, have 22 countries and millions of square kilometers to which to move. But I am ready to live with them; I want to know them, their culture and language. I am prepared to reach an arrangement under which they receive personal residence rights, but never national rights. I am not prepared to recognize them as a people, which they are not.
To the credit of the Arabs of Israel, when they arrived in our barren land against our will they preserved the traditional names of Jewish settlements from before our exile: Maaleh Michmash/Muhmas, Geva Binyamin/Jaba, Harama/a-Ram, etc. Thus they kept the faith with the true owners of the Land of Israel. As a son of the land returning home, I do not belittle the short history of the Arab residents in the area. But nothing in this presence can detract from our absolute right to the land. Against my will, I have become an enemy of the Arabs of Israel because that is how they chose to define me. This is their choice, not mine: I never started a war with them.
I am a settler, mitnahel: this is the term I have been ordained to use from the days of our Biblical fathers to the age of Zionism. The construction of new settlements or "outposts" and the expansion of existing ones are first and foremost the realization of the divine command of inheriting the land and continuing to conquer the wilderness, an expression of Hebrew labor and the values of the renewal of Zionism, as well as a necessary humanitarian step for a population whose growth rate is among the highest in the land. Maintaining and developing the settlement project is an existential requirement in terms of both values and security.
What is an unauthorized outpost? Migron, for example, is populated by some 350 people, with nursery schools and a developing, dynamic community most of whom live in structures that are government property and were brought there from 1999 in accordance with government and IDF instructions. Construction was based on a development plan prepared by the Ministry of Housing. The state of Israel linked Migron to electricity and water infrastructures and paved approach roads in clear recognition of the importance of settling the area. The outpost is situated at a strategic point on route 60 on a rocky hilltop located 748 meters above sea level. According to aerial photographs, prior to settlement this spot was completely free of agriculture and buildings and was not populated. Based on these facts, can this be labeled an unauthorized location? In whose eyes?
In American eyes. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, along with President George W. Bush, both of whom I'm sure don't know the names of many towns across the United States where tens of thousands of their own citizens live, know the name "Migron". Why? Because they have no way to solve the Middle East problem and are committed to the American vision enshrined in the roadmap. Yet the roadmap states that a basic condition is that the Arabs dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and that Hamas, too, cease violence and collect weaponry. Has any of this happened? Of course not. Instead, what has happened is the unilateral expulsion, with American support of course, of some ten thousand innocent Jews from the Qatif Bloc in the Gaza Strip. The reader will judge whether this brought about the hoped-for peace or perhaps the end of violence.
Accordingly, the decree placing a total freeze on all construction in Judea and Samaria--needless to say, restricting Jewish construction only--including the cities of Ariel and Maaleh Adumim and the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, is an immoral, un-Zionist and inhuman step that will not withstand the test of reality.
Not so long ago, there were different times: when ten 12-year olds from Ofra could bike alone through the streets of Jericho; when the mother of a third-grader from Ofra who broke his hand could hail an Arab taxi from Ramallah to a Jerusalem hospital, with no checkpoints or separation walls to stop them. This was before peace "broke out" and the unfortunate Oslo accords delivered suffering upon us and the Arabs and destroyed the fabric of coexistence and peace that prevailed de facto between me and my Arab neighbors.
At the Saban seminar held in early November in Jerusalem, I was shocked to hear the prime minister of Israel analyze for the entire world the immediate need for the Annapolis Conference: "Years ago, the Oslo Accords were signed. I was not among its [sic] supporters. . . . The opportunity that ripened then collapsed under the furor of terror, the lack of credibility of the Palestinian leadership at the time and the stormy disagreement in Israeli society. . . . There was another chance developing in 2000--the special effort made by the State of Israel that reached its peak at the Camp David summit in July of that year. That meeting unfortunately ended with an explosion that led to the bloody intifada, which even today continues in the most sensitive areas of our lives."
Then, amazingly, he concluded: "Now is the time [for another conference]."
Olmert continued: "We do not ignore the weaknesses of the Palestinian leadership; we are completely aware of the failures of the Palestinian Authority--of the lack of stable governing mechanisms, of the total disintegration of the security mechanisms in Judea and Samaria, of the Hamas rule over the Palestinian parliament and of the violent control of the murderous organizations in the Gaza Strip. Their control allows for unceasing firing of Qassam missiles at residents in the south of the country".
Yet Olmert does not allow these facts to bother him as he proceeds along the same sad road of weakness, alienation from basic values, abandoning of parts of the homeland and endangerment of Israeli citizens to the point of a new bloodbath. All this, in the hope of saving his skin from police investigations and enhancing his reputation with world opinion.
I pray that all our leaders return to their senses; that the eternal values of the Bible, the book of books, overcome the false promises of the United States that does not abandon its grip on us, as if we were the fifty-first star in the flag rather than "a free people in its land".- Published 31/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Itai Harel grew up in the settlement of Ofra and today lives with his family in the outpost of Migron. He is a social worker specializing in youth therapy through horseback riding.
To be unsubscribed from the mailing list, simply click on the link:
Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.
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.