The Settlement Detour on the Road Map to Peace


By Danny Rubinstein

April 7, 2003

Whatever the developments in Iraq may be, the diplomatic plan called "the road map" will soon top the Israeli-Palestinian agenda. Predictably, the government of Israel is even now pushing to the top of the agenda the provision of the plan that talks about "the cessation of terror, violence and incitement." The American plan sets out the various stages of the Palestinian reform following which the violent intifada will stop and Israel will cease its military incursions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A large measure of optimism is needed to see this plan succeeding: the terror attacks stop, the Israel Defense Forces withdraw - and calm prevails in the territories and elections are held.

However, the road map also has an additional well-known provision that talks about the government of Israel "freezing the Jewish settlements in the territories... including their natural increase," and the implementation of this provision looks perhaps even more impossible than the implementation of the security provisions. The reason is that the settlements have become an integral part of the Israeli reality.

It can clearly be stated that, for nearly 36 years, all of the governments of Israel have proven that they are unable to, or do not want to, stop the establishment, development and expansion of Jewish settlements in the territories that were occupied in 1967. The evacuation of the Yamit area in Sinai after the peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 was the exception that proves the rule. And the rule is that there has always been found a way to maneuver, evade and avoid all the prohibitions and restrictions that have been imposed on the settlements - until, in the end, all the plans to dry out the settlements have in fact led to the opposite result: they have expanded and become stronger, and the Jewish settlers in the West Bank have become the lords of the territory.

Ever since Rabbi Moshe Levinger arrived in Hebron on Passover 35 years ago, claiming that he wanted to celebrate the seder night in the City of the Patriarchs, an entire culture of pretense and self-deception has developed around the settlements in the territories. The excuse for the founding of the Jewish settlement in Hebron was the establishment of a yeshiva. The story of Ma'aleh Adumin began with the establishment of a camp for workers at the site, and the explanation for the establishment of Shiloh was that this was a camp for archeological excavations. Then there were Talmon Alef and Talmon Bet, and Talmon Gimmel. And, over the years, they said they were not establishing a new settlement, but only a new neighborhood in an existing settlement. And so on, until the business of the outposts and the "natural increase" of recent years - a large collection of tricks and acrobatics, and all only so that the Jewish settlement project in the territories would increase and grow stronger. Those who bought these stories were only those who wanted the Jewish settlements in the territories.

Between the beginning of the peace process at the Madrid conference in 1991, up until the outbreak of the bloody intifada in 2000, the number of Jewish settlers in the territories doubled (from about 100,000 to 200,000). The Palestinians add to this the approximately 200,000 inhabitants of the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which also include settlers in the middle of Arab neighborhoods such as Ras Al-Amoud, where the first Jewish inhabitants moved in this weekend.

The settlement project has been facilitated by the large-scale takeover of Arab lands. The Israeli administration has confiscated lands for ostensibly military purposes, and has declared huge areas of the West Bank "state lands." (This procedure was made possible because there is no registry of land arrangements in most of the West Bank). Lands belonging to absentee owners (Arabs who have been absent from Israel) and lands for public purposes (the public for these purposes being the Jewish settlers) have also been confiscated and a great deal of money, for the most part public money, has been channeled to acquiring land from Arabs in the private market.

Yehezkel Lein of B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, who prepared a detailed report of the settlement project, has described in detail the complex and sophisticated legal apparatus Israel has set up in order to enable Jewish settlement and to effectively annex the settlements to the state of Israel, as well as the complex maze of government and public budgets that allows for a ceaseless flow of vast amounts of money to the Jewish settlements.

A social and political earthquake in Israel will be needed to stop the development of the settlements and to freeze their growth. There is not a chance that the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will even get anywhere near this road map.

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