| April 30, 2003
Financial Times Limited
At the height of the war in Iraq last month, Washington quietly
rebuked Israel for allowing Jewish families to move into a
new settlement in Arab east
Indeed, despite the US State Department's calling the move
"inconsistent" with President George W. Bush's
vision of an Israeli and Palestinian state living to gether
in peace, settlers are now ensconced in a fortified apartment
complex near the densely populated district of Ras al-Amoud.
include Irving Moskowitz, a millionaire, and his son-in-law
Ariel King, a far-right political activist.
The Israeli group Peace Now says the move to populate the
settlement during the war was a concerted effort to avoid
international criticism. "This is a
settler group, extremists who want to transfer the Arabs,"
says Eyal Hareuveni, a director at the group's Jerusalem
branch. "This is only a recipe
for friction and violence."
The movement highlights the difficulties in implementing
a "freeze" of Jewish settlement in the occupied
territories as called for in the "road map".
Successive Israeli governments have implicitly, if not openly,
endorsed the Jewish communities that have gradually moved
into slices of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Such settlement
activity is considered illegal under international law but
condemnation and diplomacy have failed to stop it.
The number of settlers has almost doubled since the Oslo
peace accords of the early 1990s to about 200,000 settlers
in the territories and another 200,000 in east Jerusalem,
which was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. They are
surrounded by 3.3m often hostile Palestinians.
"The settlements are the crown jewels of the occupation
and Israel would have to expend a lot of political capital
to end them," says Geoffrey Aronson of the Washington-based
Foundation for Middle East Peace. "They are an extraordinary
achievement - but it's always almost impossible to hold
The Yesha Council, which represents Jewish communities in
Gaza and Judea and the West Bank, sees its mission as "fulfilling
the historical charge of
rebuilding the land while simultaneously serving as a crucial
protective zone for the population centres along the coastal
The Geneva Convention, which the settlers dispute, prohibits
an occupying power from moving civilians into territory
that it has taken. Israel has used
a variety of means to seize territories, such as confiscating
areas for military purposes and declaring land owned by
"absentee" landlords as "state
In addition to freezing settlements, the road map also calls
for the dismantling of "illegal outposts", which
often consist of a few caravans on
isolated hilltops. Previous attempts to remove these have
provoked violence between settlers and the Israeli army,
whose troops are privately disgruntled at having to provide
security for them.
Yosef Paritsky, the infrastructure minister, who belongs
to the staunchly secularist Shinui party, has drawn attention
to the blurred lines of legality
in the territories. "I am checking out how the illegal
outposts were connected to electricity and water, which
are owned by the state," he says. "I simply do
not understand how this was allowed to happen."
Ariel Sharon is considered an important architect of the
settlements, having facilitated their growth through a number
of ministries since the 1970s. He
recently pr ovoked the anger of the Yesha Council as well
as his rightwing coalition partners when he said peace negotiations
with the Palestinians might involve giving up some Biblical
lands, such as Bethlehem and Beit El. "I know that
we will have to part with some of these places," Mr
Sharon said. "As a Jew, this agonizes me."
But few Palestinians or diplomats believe Mr Sharon could
ever be forced to dismantle anything other than a few symbolic
outposts. So far, the Palestinians have failed to mobilise
international opinion in their favour.
"If you look at the road map, what penalty does Israel
pay if it doesn't freeze the settlements? The road map calls
for monitoring but there is no
dearth of information. None of the quartet members intends
to carry out intrusive enforcement," says Mr Aronson.
He points to the Israeli evacuation
of 5,000 settlers from the Sinai in the wake of a comprehensive
peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 as an example. Given the
political and economic investment in the settlements, he
believes their evacuation should be part of final status
negotiations. "The whole focus of the road map on interim
measures is flawed. It's a peace process put together by
committee not geared to ending the problem."
Copyright Financial Times Limited 2003. All Rights Reserved.