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Settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip

By Marwan Bazbaz, Palestine-Israel Journal

(Marwan Bazbaz is a journalist at al-Jisr, an Arabic bi-weekly, and al-Quds newspaper.)

 

Settlement was and still is the expression of Israeli expansionist designs, justified by a host of religious, Zionist and, especially, security pretexts. Following the 1967 war and the annexation of large sections of East Jerusalem to Israel, the banner of settlement in the West Bank was carried by a small ultra-right minority, adepts of an ideology which calls for the annexation to Israel of the whole of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Aims of Settlement

The aspirations of the two major parties in Israel--- Labor and Likud--- define the aims of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. In its drive to build settlements there, Labor set out to achieve the following:

  • The control of water sources in the West Bank. Settlements are established over "weak" spots in the main aquifers all along the West Bank where artesian wells can be easily dug, such as in the north of Ramallah and near Jenin, Tulkarem and Qalqiliya.

  • The consolidation of Israeli control over sensitive security areas, such as the Jordan Valley (Ghor), with a view to maintaining an Israeli presence between Jordan and the West Bank in the event a regional settlement is concluded.

  • The attempt to draw the borders of a permanent settlement in the West Bank through the construction of settlements along the lines of the Allon Plan, in spite of the fact that the plan was not officially adopted by the Labor party.

  • The prevention of any Palestinian territorial extension which would isolate the major settlements from the June 4, 1967, borders of Israel, and the connection of these settlements through bypass roads, along which settlement extensions will be built.

  • The creation of irrevocable facts in East Jerusalem through the establishment of heavily populated settlements. It is no accident that the number of inhabitants in settlement neighborhoods is close to--- or probably even exceeds--- that of Palestinian inhabitants in Jerusalem. Of the 70,000 dunums of the area of East Jerusalem annexed in 1967 (i.e., one-third of the area), 23,500 dunums have been expropriated between 1967 and 1995. The majority of these lands were in private Palestinian ownership. Of these, Labor expropriated 17,000 dunums and Likud the rest.


Through the policy of building belts around East Jerusalem, such as Pisgat Ze'ev, Neve Ya'acov, French Hill, Ma'aleh Adumim, Gilo and Ramot, the number of settlers rose to more than 150,000 in the middle of 1995.



Teddy Kollek summarized what was happening
 in East Jerusalem, "We have uttered a lot of nonsense,
 but have failed to implement anything.
 We have declared, on several occasions, that we
 would extend equal rights to Jews and Arabs in
the city--- but those were empty words"

 

In an interview with Ma'ariv newspaper on October 10, 1990, former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek gave an explicit and candid explanation of Labor's settlement policy. He summarized what was happening in East Jerusalem, and admitted that the interests of the Palestinians did not figure among the city's developmental plans: "We have uttered a lot of nonsense, but have failed to implement anything. We have declared, on several occasions, that we would extend equal rights to Jews and Arabs in the city--- but those were empty words. Levi Eshkol and Menachem Begin made commitments to grant equality to the Arabs, but neither of them kept his promises and never provided them even with a semblance of equality under the law; they were and remain second- and third-class citizens... I did something for Jewish Jerusalem during the past 25 years, but in East Jerusalem nothing! What did I do? Schools? Nothing. Pavements? Nothing. Cultural centers? None. Yes, we did build a sewerage system for them and we improved the water supply. Do you know why? When several cholera cases were declared on the Arab side [early 1970s], the Jews panicked at the prospect of the disease reaching them, so we set up the sewage and water networks to contain the cholera."

According to B'Tselem data, 76,151 housing units were built in East Jerusalem between 1967 and February 1995. The project was carried out mainly for the benefit of the Jews, as 64,880 housing units were built for them (88 percent of the total), while only 8,880 were built for Palestinians during the same period.

Using the pretext of coalition party demands, the 1993 Labor government approved and, indeed, encouraged settlement in Gush Etzion, in the center of Hebron and south of the Hebron hills. To please the extreme right, it closed its eyes to the taking over by settlers of 1,243 housing units built during the Likud government, in spite of Labor's decision to freeze settlement.

According to Housing Ministry data, 5,264 housing units were built between 1990--1992: 1,112 in the Gaza Strip and 4,152 in the West Bank. Among the latter, 732 are in the Hebron hills, 1, 209 in the Ramallah district, 149 in Gush Etzion and 46 in the Jordan Valley. Of these units, 2,509 are completely ready.

Peace Now has noted that four years before Labor came to power (July 13, 1992), the Likud government had built 10,000 housing units. These had been left unfinished, but were completed by Labor, leading to a 40-percent increase in the number of settlers in the occupied territories. Until January 1, 1992, the number of settlers was 101,210 (97,800 in the West Bank and 3,410 in the Gaza Strip). In April 4, 1995, the number of settlers rose to 138,048 (132,771 in the West Bank and 5,277 in the Gaza Strip), i.e., an average increase of 37 percent. This ratio rose to 40 percent by mid-1996, towards the end of the Labor rule (i.e., 145,000 settlers according to the 4-percent natural population growth).

Likud's Goals

The Likud's settlement policy, with Ariel Sharon at its vanguard, rests on the concept that the whole of "Eretz Israel" belongs to the Jews. This was reinforced in rightist-religious circles in the wake of what was perceived as great concessions by Menachem Begin to Egypt in Sinai. The deal between Egypt and Israel was concluded within the context of a peace agreement between the two sides. Israel was to maintain total control of the West Bank through what Begin termed, "self-rule for the people and not for the land."

In addition to all of Labor's settlement objectives and in order to block any regional peace settlement, especially in the West Bank, the Israeli right planted "ideological" settlements over a large expanse of land. These are dispersed and semi-isolated and, in some of them, the number of settlers does not exceed 100. In 1992, there were 53 such settlements, with a population of fewer than 200 each.

The Shamir government had prepared "The Year 2010 Plan," with a view of settling 2.6 million Jews in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and building 700,000 housing units in 170 settlements, at a cost of US$140--195 billion. The government did indeed embark on the grandiose but unrealistic 2010 Plan according to the following schemes: to expand settlements along the major axes in the West Bank southward and eastward; to thicken the settlement belts around Jerusalem; to do away with the Green Line through the "Seven Stars" settlement project, which will extend along the Modi'in-Wadi 'Ara axis; and to transform the small settlements into townships, with a minimum of 600 housing units each. More realistic plans see a growth of about 10,000 souls a year in the settlements. The present population [1997] is 150,000.

To connect the settlements with each other, Israel has set up a network of bypass roads that criss-cross and fragment the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Between 1986 and 1989, 150 kilometers of roads were built and, during the same period, plans were drawn up for an additional 425.5 kilometers. Data point to the fact that the purpose of these bypass roads is not security: they were planned before the onset of the Intifada and the signing of the Oslo agreement as support for the settlements. Furthermore, and on several occasions, Binyamin Netanyahu has declared the need to build settlements along these roads.

In May 1995, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) issued orders for the expropriation of land from the West Bank for the purpose of building eight bypass roads measuring 130 kilometers, in preparation for the eventual redeployment in the area.

Through settlement building, the Likud government aims to pressure the Palestinian Authority (PA) into giving concessions within the framework of political negotiations. The PA is led to believe that it is racing against time and steering its course between Scylla and Charibdis: one is giving in on the minimum requirements for the realization of their national rights; the other is creeping settlement which creates facts on the ground, denying PA control over even the minimum of Palestinian lands.


The Likud's settlement policy, with Ariel Sharon
 at its vanguard, rests on the concept that the whole
 of "Eretz Israel" belongs to the Jews

The Likud strategy is to use a succession of painful blows in sensitive areas, each blow overriding the previous one. Thus, following the sharp conflict between the Palestinians and Israel over the settlements of Giv'at Hazait and Giv'at Hatamar near Bethlehem, or the Western Wall tunnel in East Jerusalem, Israel devised the idea of settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa). By doing so, it succeeded in leading the Palestinians to "abandon" the fight over the previous two hills where the settlements have already become facts, or over the tunnel which has since remained open.

Similarly, at the height of the controversy over the Jabal Abu Ghneim settlement, Israel came up with plans for settlement in Ras al-Amud and for the eviction of the Jahalin tribe to allow for the expansion of the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. By this method, Israel was thus able to dissipate Palestinian efforts and to divert the attention of the international media from important settlement issues. A similar strategy will, undoubtedly, be pursued in the near future when Israel starts implementing plans for the expropriation of around 2,500 dunums from the lands of A-Tur, Beit Hanina and Shu'fat, in addition to large areas of land northwest of the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, where 1,500 housing units and 2,500 hotel rooms are planned.

'No New Settlements'--- An Empty Slogan

To encourage settlement, the Likud government allots huge sums of money for the purpose. The moment they assumed power, they exchanged plans for regional priorities (which had placed settlements low on the scale of national priorities while, nevertheless, providing them with huge grants and loans), with the Lieberman Plan, which restores national priority to the settlers and gives them additional privileges. This prompted Peace Now to send a letter to Netanyahu, on November 20, 1996, protesting the government's allotment of over NIS 900 million from the national budget for settlement over the Green Line (1967 borders).

The failure of the Oslo agreement to include any clauses binding Israel to stop settlement-building or paving bypass roads, led to the growth of settlement activity in magnitude and intensity. It also helped the consolidation of the cantonization policy and the isolation of Palestinian population centers. This will prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state any time in the future, by undermining the geographic continuity in Palestinian land.

At the height of the controversy over the Jabal Abu Ghneim settlement, Israel came up with plans for settlement in Ras al-Amud and for the eviction of the Jahalin tribe to allow for the expansion of the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim

In spite of the slogan of "No new settlements," the Netanyahu government is engaged, at the moment, in building big new settlements under the guise of expanding existing ones, and in turning military sites into permanent settlements. Using the excuse of ensuring security to the settlements, it is proceeding with the building of bypass roads that will isolate Palestinian population centers from each other.

The USA, the "sole patron" of the peace process, claims an impartial stand in the Middle East negotiations. In fact, it seems to be firmly behind

Israeli policy, especially in matters relating to settlements in the occupied territories. Two successive vetoes in the Security Council in recent months are proof enough of that, as is the size of the yearly loans the USA gives to Israel.

Washington has clearly chosen to adopt Netanyahu's lame pretexts and excuses, behind which he covers the real ideological truth of his own extremist position in the Israeli right. He attributes it to coalition considerations and the need for extreme rightist and religious support. By so doing, the USA is, unfortunately, ignoring the dictates of justice and democracy--- which call for an end to occupation, persecution, injustice, and settlement on Palestinian land.

 


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