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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=41180&mador=4&datee=2/24/99

Ha'aretz, February 24, 1999

Morality as the art of the possible

By Amira Hass

In light of the obdurate resourcefulness with which Israel continues to expand building for Jews in the West Bank, the impotence of the attempts to stop the momentum of concrete, asphalt and red roof tiles is becoming clearer.There is nothing new and nothing astonishing about the Palestinians' impotence. The stepped-up Israeli construction stems from a clear, considered and very simple policy: to expand the borders of the state as far as possible beyond those that have been recognized by the international community, and to lure as many Jews as possible into hitching their fate to the territories beyond the Green Line. The other side of this policy was and is to ensure Israeli control over as much territory - and over as few Palestinians - as possible.

The operator of an Israeli steam shovel that is shaving off the top of a pastoral hill, an Israeli engineer who is checking the foundations of a new neighborhood and a counselor in the Education Ministry who is supervising the expansion of a school in a Jewish settlement, are all operating separately. They are not necessarily partners to the ideology of the greater land of Israel, but they are the emissaries of a far-reaching mental construct. Facing them are thousands of Palestinians who fear for their future: They put up protest tents, they sometimes clash with Israeli soldiers guarding the expanding settlements and they try to plant olive trees on their own lands, and are prevented from getting there by the residents of nearby settlements. In the Friday prayers they bewail the fate of their vineyards, that with time - because the settlement fence has crept right up to them - they have ceased to cultivate.

One worry unites them all, but in the end, every damaged village stands alone. Contrary to official declarations produced by the weekly bulletin of the Palestinian cabinet, the villagers are not backed by any clear and comprehensive policy of their leadership. Economic deals between senior Palestinian officials and Israeli businessmen, the obedient cooperation in the commission against incitement, regular reports to the Israeli Shin Bet security service, arrests of Hamas activists, trips abroad with representatives of the peace movement and smiling group pictures at parties in Herzliya Pituach - the Palestinian leadership has decided that it is too weak to condition the normalization of its relations with Israel on an end to the Israeli takeover of the West Bank. Its adherence to the Wye Memorandum even prevents it from formulating new, non-schizophrenic tactics and its fear of losing control over its public prevents it from supporting the transformation of sporadic episodes into a general popular Palestinian struggle.

The Palestinian weakness sheds light on the weakness of the opponents to the settlements in Israel and their stunning isolation within the opposition to the Likud which sees itself as "the peace camp" or alternatively as "Oslo supporters." Here too there is nothing new nor astonishing. Peace Now does provide precise data on the extent of official and "piratical" Jewish construction, but there is no public sufficiently unified to formulate new tactics of action that would attempt to put a stop to the settlement greed. Possibly, many in the Oslo camp - among Labor Party and Meretz supporters - have decided that they are too weak to deal with the Israeli legal sophistry that has transformed every scrap of land in the West Bank that is not registered in the land rolls into land for Jews only. They are weak, too, in face of the constant temptation to middle- and lower-class Israelis to exchange a small and crowded apartment for a spacious apartment or even a single-family home with a bit of garden.

The verbal opposition of most of the Israeli "peace camp" to the expansion of the settlements is based primarily on propositions that are claimed to be to Israel's benefit, practically speaking, but these fail to convince the public. They say that the settlements sabotage the peace process, but if the Palestinian Authority is pressing on with it, it must be a sign that the danger is not so very great. To those who say that the settlements are contrary to the agreements, it is all too easy to prove that there is no explicit written stipulation that they must not be expanded. There are those who expect that any minute now America will intervene and stop the construction, but even though the United States is no longer preoccupied with impeachment trials, it has long since abandoned the international agreements' viewpoint that the settlements are illegal.

In the camp of the Oslo supporters - the central axis of which is the Labor Party, the very same party that in its previous incarnations laid the foundations for the perception that it is the borders of settlement that determine sovereignty - there is a consensus that "it is impossible to break up the settlements." Therefore, the leadership of half of the Israeli public is unable to formulate tactics for action that will be effective.

It is a short way from the practical "impossible" to the normative "immoral." It is forbidden (immoral) to talk of evacuating (in return for reparations that would be included in the cost of a peace agreement, for example) 180,000 Jews. It is forbidden (immoral) even to call for the return to Israel of 7,000 Jews living in the Gaza Strip (where there are 1.2 million Palestinians) who are occupying 20 percent of the land there. Behind this consensus lies an opposite assumption held by most of the Jewish public: that it is permissible, because it has been proven possible, to herd 2.5 million Palestinians into a crowded living enclave with no horizons

 

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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