Briefing Paper September 2003
Palestine’s War of Independence
The Palestinian struggle must not move from condemning Israeli aggression to condemning [Palestinian] resistance… Any plan or steps not designed to end occupation or aggression are destined to fail.
Muhammad Al-Hindi, Islamic Jihad (The Jerusalem Times 16/5/03)
The Road Map is unlikely to progress. Ariel Sharon is (surprise,surprise) making no effort to capitalise on the successful efforts of the Palestinian Authority to create conditions for peace talks to proceed. George W Bush is (surprise,surprise) making no effort to pressurise Sharon into recognising the efforts of the Authority.
The one dominating issue is that of prisoner release. With few Palestinian families untouched by the occupier’s practice of arresting people at will, detaining most without charge or trial, this one issue is an emotive one. The few hundred that have been released are mostly either those on criminal charges, or stone throwers, or have only a few weeks to go of their sentence/detention. By refusing to make a serious attempt to address Palestinian concerns on this issue, Israel is clearly stating its contempt for the Road Map.
And this contempt is shown in a variety of other forms, not least that within days of the eventual release of prisoners, the occupier had arrrested/detained twice as many more.
With a token number of settlement outposts dismantled in the glare of the media, only to be replaced at a later date; with Ariel Sharon blatantly advising the settlers to continue with their activities but not to boast about it; with a tender being put out for further settlement construction in the Gaza Strip – it was no surprise to hear that there were now more settlements in place than before the implementation of the conditions necessary for the Road Map to make headway.
The much-heralded withdrawal of the occupation forces from a couple of areas, the removal of a few checkpoints made little difference to the daily grind of the occupied. Checkpoints can be set up at a moment’s notice. And what value “withdrawal” if this means a shift of position by a couple of hundred metres, round the nearest corner? While the incidence of invasion and assault on civilian areas had dropped, the occupation and its effects was still very much in evidence.
What value a negotiated 3-month cease-fire with the various resistance groups when Israel continued with its policy of attacking and killing? Nablus and Hebron bore the brunt of these invasions, with alleged activists being killed – with consequent retaliatory attacks on Israeli targets.
Then there was the continuing construction of the Apartheid Wall weaving its way through the West Bank and, in the process, annexing fertile Palestinian land and important aquifers to Israel. It continues to separate tens of thousands from their land, leaving many between Israel proper and the Wall, having to make the choice whether to leave so that children can go to school, attend hospital, attend local markets etc or stay on the land and endure increasing deprivation. For many its construction is a slow process of ethnic cleansing. One of the more telling statistics comes from the UNDP who estimate that 83 000 olive trees have been bulldozed so far to make way for the Wall. It is an exercise in the impossible to quantify this in terms of what it means to the Palestinian farmer who sees generations of hard work, trees going back centuries in some cases, destroyed in front of his eyes.
And, of course, the contempt experienced by the Palestinian under occupation is mirrored within Israel itself with the passing of the recent racist law which, currently, could split over 21 000 families. Those Israeli citizens who marry a spouse from the occupied territories will be forced to live apart. The Palestinian partner will not be allowed to live in Israel, once children reach the age of 12 years they, too, will have to leave Israel.
Three Men in a Boat
(one is Sharon, the other two are Arafat and Abbas- not included here)
Hussein Agha and Robert Malley (The New York Times Review of Books
Volume 50, Number 13 August 14, 2003 Issue)
The crowning achievement is his relationship with the US and with President Bush in particular. Some feared (or hoped) that Sharon’s handling of his relations with the administration would be his undoing; it has proved to be his strength. In the pas,t he had needlessly alienated and provoked his US ally. He sees the US better now. He can pursue his main longer-term objectives while accommodating Bush’s needs. From Israel’s former prime minister Golda Meir he has learned the two core principles of his policy: hit the Arabs (here, the Palestinians) hard and keep the Americans happy.
As he approaches the twilight of his political career, Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, contemplates his one last remaining task. It is the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition, one that he several times has sought and that several times has eluded him: the achievement of Israel’s long-term moral and existential security by eradicating a unified Palestinian national movement. He feels he is closer than ever to achieving his goal. The Palestinian polity is beginning to disintegrate. A generation of Palestinian leaders has been killed or imprisoned. Step by step, Palestinians will have to begin thinking of themselves not as Palestinians but as Gazans or West Bankers, Nabulsis or Hebronites, insiders or outsiders. This conflict is all about territory, and Palestinian territory is being carved up; it is about politics and political representation as well, and local Palestinian fiefdoms are emerging. A new reality is taking shape.
“Facts on the ground,” the world euphemistically calls them: settlements, bypass roads, access routes, the separation wall. Together they are carving out isolated Palestinian cantons, creating an entity that they will be free, if they so want, to designate as a state. Chaos is the harbinger of triumph. Soon, if the cards are played meticulously, patiently, and well, Sharon’s legacy to the future will be much like the past: a heterogeneous, scattered, divided Palestinian polity, the undoing of all that has been done for the past four decades by his nemesis, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The goal is almost reached, but not yet, and two principal obstacles remain. The first is Yasser Arafat. To Sharon, Arafat personifies all that he has vowed to suppress: a militant nationalism opposed to the Zionist project, implacable hostility toward the state of Israel, violence, terror, and, until recently, legitimacy in the eyes of the world. The second is Abu Mazen. Arafat aside, Sharon sees Abu Mazen as the Last Palestinian, the final leader of a unified national movement, the man potentially capable of holding the national movement together. Abu Mazen is needed to eclipse Arafat. But Abu Mazen’s ultimate failure is equally required for Sharon’s goal to be fulfilled. Let Abu Mazen succeed in order to marginalize Arafat, end the armed intifada, and achieve for Israel a measure of security. But let him succeed only so far and no further. Let him bring about a more peaceful situation without benefiting from its potential political returns. For Abu Mazen’s success could bring him strength, and his strength would revitalize the threat of a unified Palestinian movement that his rise was meant to thwart. Within those circumscribed political possibilities, Sharon views Abu Mazen’s fate as a win-win proposition: should he succeed in ending the military confrontation, the Israeli prime minister will take the credit; should he fail, the Palestinians will take the blame.
Sharon worries that so many of his fellow Israelis misunderstand the nature of this fight. And so they underestimate it. It is one national movement against another, and the two cannot both survive intact. For him the Palestinian national movement presents an existential threat to the State of Israel because it can translate both demographic growth and violent confrontation into longer-term political weapons. The 1948 war of independence goes on, with this its final battle, the one that will seal the fate of Israel for generations to come. He is sure he knows the Palestinians-knows how they think; knows how they operate-because, in a way, they are his mirror image, doing what he is doing and has been doing all his life. In this, at least, they share the vision of a brutal combat between two national movements of which only one can emerge unified and victorious. Sharon has little confidence in those who surround or would succeed him. The next generation of Israelis, impatient, weak, spoiled, hedonistic, and restless, doesn’t have what it takes yet to prevail in this struggle, may not ever have it. He does.
And how well his plan seems to be working. Next to him, he figures, previous Israeli prime ministers look like amateurs, resisting US and domestic pressures when accommodation was in order, giving in when adaptation was at hand, too rigid and too flexible at the same time. Once branded both an Israeli and an international pariah for his history, his actions in Lebanon and his role in the massacres committed in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila, he is now viewed as belonging to the mainstream of Israeli politics. The world might object to his resort to brutal military tactics, to extra-judicial killings, with scores of civilian casualties. Still, he is accepted and respected, neither boycotted nor shunned. For all the sympathy of many for the Palestinians it is Arafat they are being pressed to break with, not him. He is not the aggressor; he is Israel’s protector in the international war against terrorism.
At home, he enjoys a political security unprecedented in recent Israeli history. With a third of the parliament’s members at his side, he governs at the head of a right-wing coalition. Undermined by the intifada and the collapse of the peace process, lacking both message and messenger, the Left can do little more than wait on the sidelines, voiceless, leaderless, divided, and adrift. The only vocal opposition comes from the Right, which suits him more than it threatens. To Americans pushing for greater concessions, he can point to the Right’s strident protests against those he already has made, evidence of both his political courage and the political constraints on his policies. To the Right he can point to the ever-beckoning Left, who, at a moment’s notice, would likely come to his rescue to form an alternative governing coalition.
Sharon promised peace and security. He has brought neither, and still the Israeli public, convinced of the lack of a credible alternative, gives him broad support. He has out-manoeuvred opponents Left and Right, cutting them down to size. Age alone can stop him now.
Further afield, the regional and international landscape has been changed in ways gratifying to him. Saddam’s regime has been toppled. Syria’s leaders appear more concerned with survival than with confrontation. Iran too is feeling pressure from the US. Peace treaties with Cairo and Amman have survived waves of Israeli military attacks against the Palestinians, heavy civilian casualties, the end of Oslo, and Arafat’s confinement. This is no time to worry about a regional military threat to Israel.
The crowning achievement is his relationship with the US and with President Bush in particular. Some feared (or hoped) that Sharon’s handling of his relations with the administration would be his undoing; it has proved to be his strength. In the past, he had needlessly alienated and provoked his US ally. He sees the US better now. He can pursue his main longer-term objectives while accommodating Bush’s needs. From Israel’s former prime minister Golda Meir he has learned the two core principles of his policy: hit the Arabs (here, the Palestinians) hard and keep the Americans happy.
Around him, some of his more ideological and rigid partners worry openly about the implementation of the USsponsored roadmap for peace and the prospect of a Palestinian state. How shortsighted their view, how devoid of imagination. It is not outright annexation of the Palestinians that ought to be the goal, or their impoverishment. Sharon sees all too well the risks inherent in both. Palestinians are not the enemy; Palestinian nationalism is. In the longer run, annexation will mean either apartheid or the end of the Jewish character of the state. The continued impoverishment of the Palestinians will mean constant resentment and potential violence. A mini-Palestinian state-defined as he, Sharon, would define it, limited as he would limit it, hardly a sovereign state and barely viable, without links to the outside world-is a gift to Israel, and not to the Palestinians. It is a ready-made answer to Israel’s dilemmas, resolving its demographic problem, maintaining its security, thwarting the reemergence of a national Palestinian movement, and, above all, turning an emotional national struggle into a routine border dispute. This is why statehood, for which the Palestinians have fought for so long and which Israel has resisted so fiercely, ironically has now become an Israeli interest and a Palestinian fear.
Sharon has evoked a long-term interim arrangement with the Palestinians; the “roadmap” talks of a Palestinian state with provisional borders that should be the prelude to a final agreement. One way-the wrong way -would be to simply resist the roadmap. In Sharon’s world, the better way is to mold the provisional borders into a long-term interim arrangement, always preserving Israel’s mastery-by dragging the process out, forever postponing the prospect of a final deal, and by continuing to build settlements, only this time under the cover of a recognized Palestinian state.
Not that all before him is clear or smooth. There are potential deep problems ahead. Sharon came into office without being particularly sensitive to the state of the economy; but he has come to see that others in the country are, and that the continuing lack of security and political deadlock with the Palestinians are taking their toll. With the Iraq war over, adjustments have to be made; some form of political deal will have to be pursued. He knows too that Israeli public opinion is fickle, susceptible to short-term pain and short-lived hopes; he has both suffered and benefited from these in the past.
Sharon has come to know the US President as well as he could, but to him, as to most others, Bush remains something of a mystery, inattentive to detail, yet taken with grandiose ideas and stubborn in pursuing their realization. Such spurts of zeal are jarring to the deliberate, focused, painstaking Israeli leader. He may one day face unexpected pressure from Washington of a type and with an aim that he is unsure of. Tactics will have to be used to take care of that, and what tactics cannot accomplish will have to be done through the passage of time. Sharon can procrastinate and, if it is truly needed-but only if it is truly needed -make use of the assets he enjoys in domestic US opinion so as to keep the President from demanding too much.
He has stocked up in anticipation of such uncertainties. Over the last two and a half years, he has accumulated a heavy load of tangible political assets. Some were meant to be held on to. Others were meant to be spent. There are Palestinian prisoners taken only to be released, territory that Israel occupied with an eye to later withdrawals, settlements-such as the barely inhabited outposts recently dismantled- that are established only to be subsequently removed. He has agreed to political plans, calculating that they are not likely to be carried out. Such moves have been made at a cost, but that cost is part of the game of putting the ball back in the Palestinians’ court, gaining time, all the while protecting the supremacy he really cares about.
Yielding what you previously took brings you to where you once were, but a new precedent has been set with the taking; accolades for the apparent concessions come from abroad and, at home, the catcalls that come from the Right are few and bearable. The first time the Israeli army entered Gaza, there was a US outcry and troops were rapidly withdrawn. By now, some two years later, it is the price of withdrawal rather than the principle of entry that is being negotiated. It takes patience and flexibility, a mastery of time and a solid understanding of what counts and what does not. Sharon trusts that he has more of each than anyone else.
Some lament that Sharon has not changed. Others protest that he has changed too much. How odd, pointless, and tiresome this debate must sound to him. Long experience of highs and lows has taught him an indelible lesson: that nothing protects one from change so much as change itself. Politics is an affair of constant fine-tuning, a careful weighing of Israeli public opinion, economic realities, and the interests of the US, with its sudden and limited attention span. Constraints are just obstacles that one must bypass in order to better reach one’s true objective. The map of a miniPalestinian state that he proudly claims he accepts today, surrounded and perforated by Israeli territory, is the same one he has had in his pocket for the past twenty years. If calling it a state is the price to be paid, so be it. It is one he has come to accept willingly long before so many others on his right as well as on his left. Some might panic and some might sweat. Not he-his eyes are continually set on the ultimate goal, as he coolly, stubbornly, implacably heads toward it.
…2003 marks the year in which the the 55 year old Palestinian exile since 1948 has lasted longer than the Jewish exile to Babylon that started in 586 BC…Like the Jews of antiquity they [the Palestinians] will battle exile untile they achieve statehood in their ancestral land – – – Massive violence by either side against the other will not work; neither will naive political marginalisation or subjugation of the weaker party, whether practised by Rome, Babylon an Assyria in antiquity or by Washington and Tel Aviv today.
Rami Khoury (The Jerusalem Times 18/07/03)
This road map leads nowhere[extract]
John V. Whitbeck (IHT Friday, July 25, 2003)
Another illusion destined to be dispelled soon is that the current ‘‘road map’’ for Israel and Palestine will win the United States friends and gratitude in the Arab world, diminishing the anger aroused by the conquest and occupation of Iraq. While the ‘‘road map’’ is widely described as a ‘‘peace plan,’’ in Arab eyes, ‘‘peace’’ in Israel/Palestine requires ending the occupation, not crushing resistance to it, while, in most of the world, true ‘‘peace’’ is recognized to require some measure of justice, a word avoided by successive American governments in connection with their successive ‘‘peace plans.’’
If one reads the road map, it is readily apparent that it builds on a false premise to reach an unbelievable conclusion.
The premise is that the real problem is Palestinian resistance to the 36-year occupation, and not the occupation itself. The conclusion is that if the Palestinian leadership will suppress completely all forms of resistance to the occupation and eliminate all capabilities for ever resisting again, thereby making the occupation totally cost-free for Israelis, then (and only then) Israel will choose, of its own free will, to end the occupation, withdrawing to pre-1967 borders, vacating the settlements, sharing Jerusalem and agreeing to a just settlement of the refugee issue. The Holy Land may be a land of miracles, but, even if the ‘‘if’’ were possible, it is difficult to believe that anyone could genuinely believe that the ‘‘then’’ would follow.
By contrast, if such a destination, fully consistent with international law, were announced and guaranteed at the start of the road — as it would be in any plan devised with a sincere intention to achieve peace — there would no longer be any need for resistance. Arabs are not fools. When they see both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell insisting that a total cessation of Palestinian violence is not good enough, and that the Palestinian leadership must also eliminate any capability for resuming violent resistance, they recognize that the real American objective is not peace, but, at best, simply quiet — Palestinian acquiescence in the occupation and acceptance of whatever terms Israel may wish to impose on a defeated and demoralized people — and, at worst, provoking a Palestinian civil war. Such a peace plan will win the United States no more friends and gratitude in the Arab world than American efforts to repress resistance to its occupation of an Arab country by ever-escalating force, which is condemned to produce everintensifying resistance, which will be met by yet more brutal force in an infernal cycle which Israelis and Palestinians know all too well.
Is there any way to prevent an already ugly situation in the Middle East from degenerating into a long-term war of civilizations? Actually, there is. In March 2002, the Arab League, in its Beirut Declaration, offered full peace and normal diplomatic and economic relations between Israel and all Arab states in return for a total end to the occupation of all Arab lands occupied in 1967. The Arab League should formally reaffirm this offer, while also making clear the ‘‘other side of the coin’’ — that there will not be peace or normal relations until the occupation ends. Then, the United
States should make clear that what must end is the occupation. Of course, for America to do so would require a virtual ‘‘second American declaration of independence.’’ American politicians would have to put the interests of their own country and people ahead of the desires of extreme right-wing elements in Israel and their vocal, intimidating and wellfunded supporters in the United States. Most observers would consider such a revolution inconceivable, but, at least in theory, it is possible — and it is urgent.
The true road map confronting Iraq, Palestine and the region as a whole is not one of steady progress toward peace, prosperity, Western-style democracy and increasingly pro-American sentiments. Unless the world focuses soon on the real problem and its only real solution, and insists on the prompt implementation of that solution, we are all risking a rapid descent into hell.
I am willing to bring the busses that will take those prisoners to a place they’ll never come back from. I prefer to drown them in the Dead Sea.
Avigdor Lieberman, Transportation Minister during Cabinet debate on prisoner release (Yedioth Ahronoth 7/7/03)
Primordial Illogic and Primitive Cruelty
Amira Hass ( Haaretz, July 23, 2003)
There is nothing more logical than setting arbitrary times of day when a Palestinian is allowed to leave his home and come back to it. There is nothing more logical than forbidding him to leave his field in a pickup truck to take his crops straight to market. It is logical to forbid him to receive guests, to take a donkey-drawn wagon, to ride a bicycle, to visit his parents a few kilometres away – or to bring a goat into his house “without coordination” so as to provide some fresh milk for his children.
There is nothing more logical than to fence the Palestinian into his village, neighbourhood, and land, with an electronic barrier, and then set a minimum age to leave,. It is logical to appoint 19-year-old soldiers to watch the gate, which is sometimes opened on time and sometimes not, and to impose the rules – 29-year-olds are not allowed out, 30year-olds are, pregnant women are allowed out, non-pregnant woman are not. It is logical to forbid all crossing when the Shin Bet suddenly requires it, leaving outside a 65-year-old man who went out to buy something a kilometre and a half away, or a young man who went for dental treatment, or a mother whose children stayed at home because only children under the age of 21 are allowed out.
It is so logical to forbid a Palestinian to go to the beach 300 meters from his home, and to prevent half a million people from nearby towns from going to the beach. It is so logical. After all, that’s what army commanders and soldiers do, day in and day out, hour by hour, in Gaza, in the Siafa area in the north and the Mawassi in the centre of the Strip.
It’s logical, because the IDF’s mission in the heart of Gaza – which it did not leave in 1994, despite the Oslo legend – is to guarantee the safety and security and lives of Israelis whose government continues to encourage in moving to occupied territory. It is logical because Israeli governments since the 1970s and on, Labour and Likud, decided to settle Jews in the main open areas in the narrow Gaza Strip, in the prettiest area of dunes and on the most spectacular beach, in an area blessed with fresh water compared to the rest of the Gaza area.
It is logical to lock people up in their homes and villages, and to sabotage the farming of their land because it is logical to subsidize the Jewish settlement in the land of the forefathers of Gush Katif and northern Gaza. It is logical to connect Jewish settler homes to electricity and water while forbidding Palestinian neighbours from connecting to the electricity grid and the water and sewage lines.
It sounds cruel to lock people up in their homes and uproot their groves and orchards that they spent decades nurturing. But it’s a logical cruelty, Israel is convinced, if that is what it takes to foil the cruelty of others – to prevent an armed Palestinian attack on a nursery school or a plant nursery or to plant a landmine on the route of a tank that is patrolling to protect the nursery school and the plant nursery.
During the Oslo years, many good Israelis made do with the logical thought that “eventually” the settlements in Gaza would be dismantled. Logic and policy are two different things. Meanwhile, even before the bloodshed broke out in September 2000, the settlements in Gaza expanded, their infrastructures were improved and their security required the army to dictate various Draconian prohibitions of movement for a million Palestinians.
The northern Gaza Strip, with its minuscule settlements, was cut off from the rest of the strip and de facto annexed to Israel. Palestinian representatives tried to speak to the logical minds of their Israeli counter- parts at the negotiating table. It didn’t work. On the contrary, the number of settlements in Gaza only grew.
With subsidies and expanding infrastructures and good roads and an expanding market for their worm-free lettuce – why should they leave? And why should the government dismantle the settlements when the Palestinians themselves signed the agreements that did not require the settlements to be dismantled? The quiet that most Palestinians kept most of the time proved to Israelis that it was possible to get peace with the settlements.
That quiet relieved the Israelis of the duty to deal with the primordial illogic, the primordial cruelty – establishing the settlements. The governments used the Palestinian quiet to continue developing the settlements. And after September 2000, what the appeals to logic did not accomplish, the armed attacks certainly won’t accomplish. After all, Israel will never give in to terror.
Even before any Qassam rockets were fired at Sderot, the army shot to death people who dared approach settlements and the fortifications that protect the settlements. Some were armed, but many were simply shepherds and peasants and their stone-throwing children. All the farmland around the settlements was shaved down to nothing – raked, flattened and demolished, to improve the vision of soldiers preserving the settlements. How logical.
If the only way to distract the general public from the government’s disastrous economic policies is to divert the media from internal into external affairs, then it is expedient for Netanyahu and Sharon to provoke Palestinian violence
Haim Baram Middle East International 25/7/03
Israeli Settlers Rebuilding Even as Outposts are Razed
Megan K. Stack Los Angeles Times July 5, 2003
There isn’t much to look at – a water tower, the charcoal ghosts of old campfires, a handful of trailers clinging to the earth against hot winds. This scraped-out hilltop isn’t on the map, but it’s been under construction for months, and it’s growing daily – new foundations, new trailers and even a new baby. They named him Amitzur, which means “my people are like a rock.”
On paper, Haroe is slated for oblivion. A U.S.-backed peace plan calls on Israel to immediately tear down all such Jewish settlement outposts erected since March 2001 in the Palestinian territories. But a tour through miles of golden hills and olive groves reveals that the West Bank is gaining rather than losing outposts. Israel’s scattered efforts to raze renegade homesteads have only succeeded in inspiring a contrary construction spurt.
The tally stands at nine destroyed, 10 or 11 built, according to Dror Etkes, a Peace Now activist who takes almost daily settlement-counting jaunts into the West Bank. “Construction freeze, eh?” he snorted.
To Palestinians and peace activists, the reluctant rearrangement of outposts is proof that the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon isn’t committed to the U.S.-backed “road map” to peace.
“One eye is winking to the settlers, and the other eye is winking to your government,” said Gabriel Sheffer, an analyst of the peace process at Hebrew University. “It’s hopeless. It will prevent any peace with the Palestinians or any Palestinian state.”
In June, Israeli soldiers marched forth with orders to tear down outposts. While cameras rolled, the troops grappled and tugged at settlers. But then there’s the inevitable – and oft-ignored – counteraction: the move onto a new hilltop, and the defiant construction of a new storage container or antenna. “It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and everybody knows it’s a game,” settler David Wilder of Hebron said. “We’re saying, ‘You can’t just pick us up and throw us off.’ ” A few rabbis urge the settlers – many of whom pack automatic weapons and pistols – to fight back against the evacuation of what they regard as sacred soil.
Other leaders advocate passive resistance: Pick new hilltops and found fresh outposts, they advise. No state, even the Jewish state, should interfere with a divine mandate to settle the biblical lands, many reasons.
Industrious settlers were already staking out a new outpost near Ramallah last week while soldiers tore down the old one a few hundred yards away. Near Hebron, a hilltop known only as No. 26 was evacuated four times in two days. Proud founders named one of the outcrops Ariel in honor of the prime minister, who has erected many a settlement in his time.
“High drama,” scoffed Michael Tarazi, a legal advisor to Palestinian authorities. “Cosmetic.”
Still, some settlers are nervous. After spending decades spurring the charge to settle the West Bank, Sharon’s loyalty now seems to be in question. This year, under the expectant eye of a Bush administration that appears intent upon Middle East peace, Sharon warned his people to expect painful sacrifices – namely, forcing some of the most ideologically driven settlers off land they believe is their birth-right. Settlers regard their communities as noble. Many are fed by the conviction that these old hills, spotted with biblical tombs and ruins, were given to the Jewish people by God. Compelled to stake out the earth on behalf of the Jewish people, they speak of “redeeming the land,” and point out that Jews have fought for generations to establish a homeland here.
“The Jews have come home,” settler Eve Harrow said. “And we’re not leaving.”
Then there’s the question of national security, which has driven even relatively secular Israelis like Sharon to push for more settlements. The idea is that one of the best buffers against the Arab world is a ribbon, the thicker the better, of Jewish settlements outside Israel’s border. But land is precious to both sides. If Palestinians now living on bitterly disputed territory are ever to found a state, they’ll need land to call their own – as much as possible, and as continuous a stretch as they can find. With every new outpost, Palestinians see another spot of decay in the disintegration of their would-be homeland. Already, more than 225,000 Jewish settlers live in the Palestinian territories.
Last week, in what is becoming a familiar reversal of tone, Sharon told the Israeli Cabinet that settlers should keep on building, but quietly, according to Israeli news reports. As Israeli radio paraphrased it, “Build, but don’t gloat.”
“It is all fraud and deceit,” opposition lawmaker Yossi Sarid said. “The prime minister is leading this deception.” A Sharon advisor scorned the suggestion that the prime minister was treading lightly with the settlers. The peace plan doesn’t oblige Israel to take action, Raanan Gissin argued, until all Palestinian attacks end. On the contrary, he argued, Sharon was generous to send soldiers to dismantle some outposts as a good faith gesture. “He started at the most inconvenient political time,” Gissin said. “It’s not whether it’s convenient or popular. It’s a question of whether you want to lead your people to a different destiny.”
An outpost can be a trailer, industrial park or water tower; it can be occupied or empty. Outposts are the seeds of new settlements, usually nearby satellites of a larger community. Outposts often serve as land links between settlements, ways of slowly expanding domain. It can happen like this: Proclaiming the need for a mobile telephone antenna or a scientific research station, a man climbs a hill and pitches a tent. Then he brings a friend, and they bring their families. In time, if Israel confers legitimacy upon them, they graduate from outpost to settlement. “The whole thing here is crazy,” said Etkes of Peace Now, an Israeli organization that has long opposed settlements. “It’s one big twisted wash of words and concepts to make sure the Palestinians will go on being occupied.”
If Israelis and Palestinians manage to keep the peace process going, getting rid of the newer outposts will be just the beginning. As talks creak forward, the so-called road map calls for the negotiation of the fate of established settlements. Sharon has said that some of the communities must be forsaken – but he’s also pledged the continued existence of Jews in the controversial neighbourhoods. “Who knows what Sharon is thinking? Really, nobody knows,” said Sheffer, the analyst. “He determines the government’s moves, and nobody can say whether he’s serious or not.” Under Sharon’s guidance, Israel has paid to make sure eager pioneers go forth to settle tracts of land in the name of Israel. Settlers have been entitled to tax breaks, cheaper housing and schools – and soldiers to guard the gates. Through years of battle and truce, under all types of leadership, Israel has built on, despite protests from the international community.
At this point, says West Bank settler Yisrael Harel, Israel couldn’t clear out the settlements even if it tried. “It’s not a matter of how good your administration is or how effective,” Harel said. “We don’t give in.”
But Palestinian legal advisor Tarazi is unconvinced. The soft handling of outposts is “very much premeditated;
it’s not just laissez-faire,” he said. “It’s a documented pattern.”
As the residents of Haroe attest, the only thing that counts is holding onto the land, one way or the other. If the Jews and Arabs share an ideology, it is this: It matters little what’s on the maps or in the books; nothing is important except “facts on the ground.” Water towers, olive groves and antennas are facts on the ground. “Road maps” and ceasefires are ephemeral.
“History moves on,” said a bespectacled 27-year-old resident of Haroe who declined to give his name. He balanced his
M-16 on his knee and gazed off over the biblical hills. “We are still here, on the land of my ancestors.”View all →