More than ‘Unhelpful,’ Settlements are Detrimental

By Joharah Baker – The West Bank

In what will probably be her last trip to the region in her capacity as US Secretary of State this week, Condoleezza Rice called Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem, "unhelpful." As if this weren’t bad enough, Rice continued to make excuses for Israel, saying she still has faith in their intentions. "I don’t believe that it is Israel’s policy to increase activity in the settlements, rather it is to decrease activity."

Does anyone really listen to Condi anymore? If we are to measure just how much the parties, Palestinians in particular, should put their eggs into her basket based on statements like these, the answer is definitely no.

The biased and at best, lukewarm official US position on illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem is nothing new. No one was shocked out of their seats by Rice’s obvious failure to acknowledge the detrimental impact of these all-Jewish colonies in the heart of Palestinian land. Consecutive American administrations have all but given their seal of approval to the major settlement blocs in the West Bank and especially those encircling east Jerusalem, with US President George W. Bush stating in his 2004 letter to then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." In basic English this means, the settlements Israel regards as strategic and imperative to Israel’s security and national identity are there to stay.

No, Rice’s two day visit to Palestine and Israel brought no surprises and certainly no hint of policy changes from Washington. On the contrary, Rice’s stay coincided with a report – which she chose to disregard – by Peace Now that said settlement construction in the West Bank had doubled in the past year. According to the report, released on August 25, which is based in aerial photographs and field visits, there are currently 2,600 housing units under construction in various settlements. Furthermore, Peace Now reports, there has been huge increase in the number of tenders for housing units issued in 2008 from last year, jumping from 65 to 417.

These numbers exclude east Jerusalem. According to the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, ARIJ, since the Annapolis conference in November 2007, Israel has either issued or plans to issue a total of 30,000 housing units in the West Bank and Jerusalem, further consolidating Israel’s hold on the city and pushing its self-declared municipal boundaries as far as possible to hinder any contiguity between the West Bank and the Palestinians’ future capital.

So what exactly did the Secretary of State mean when she said she still believed Israel’s intentions did not include "increasing activity" in the settlements? Even Israel doesn’t deny this. Back in April, after the government approved the construction of 100 new housing units in the northern West Bank settlements of Ariel and Elkan, Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Boim justified the move by saying they were merely accommodating the natural growth of settlers. Ariel, the illegal Jewish settlement established in 1978 and which lies southwest of Nablus, was given the status of a city in 1998 even though it is built completely on Palestinian territory. It is also one of the settlement blocs slated for annexation to Israel in any final settlement.

Clearly, Israel’s far-reaching goals for any future Palestinian entity have hardly changed over the past 40 years. The settlement enterprise has always been, and it seems, always will be the core of its negotiations with the Palestinians. Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer succinctly dotted all the I’s and crossed all the t’s where Israel’s plans are concerned. "Israel is erasing the Green Line through intensive construction intended to create territorial continuity between settlement blocs and isolated settlements in the heart of the West Bank," he said upon release of his organization’s report.

Most definitely, the Green Line is being redrawn and rerouted time and time again, all to the favor of Israel. One look at the snakelike separation wall, which conveniently pulls these beloved settlement blocs into the bosom of Israel’s so-called heartland, shows how it has cut far into the Green Line supposedly delineating the borders between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

It might as well be drawn in sand. Palestinians have long called for an end to the Israeli occupation over lands captured in the 1967 War and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all of these lands without exception. United Nations Security Council resolutions have held the same opinion, deeming both the occupation and Israel’s settlement activities illegal. Security Council Resolution 446 of 1979 states that "the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

Furthermore, Security Council Resolution 452 of the same year "Calls upon the Government and people of Israel to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem."

Not only has Israel systematically chosen to disregard these international resolutions and much of the international community that concurs with them, it now argues that Palestinians should just "get over it." At the end of July, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni responded to Palestinian protests over Israeli plans to expand a settlement in the Jordan Valley by saying the Palestinians should not use settlements as "an excuse" to derail peace talks. "There are some excuses that all of us can use or abuse in order to say something about the peace process or the peace negotiations," she said.

Other Israelis argue that old UN Resolutions are just that – old and outdated – and that the Palestinians should stop whining about "the occupation" and move on. This attitude serves only one purpose. Exonerating Israel from its past injustices against the Palestinians including those perpetrated in 1948, legitimizing and consolidating its illegal occupation over the West Bank and Gaza and finally casting the majority of the blame on the Palestinians for not accepting its generous "peace offerings."

Hence, it is crucial that the Palestinians do not drop this ball in particular. The settlements must be the permanent line at which all compromise ends. Contrary to what Israel wants the world to believe, the conflict is not about "Palestinian terrorism" and Israel’s defense against it. It is a conflict based on Israel’s expansionist goals, clearly mirrored in the metastasizing nature of the settlements. This was clear 30 years ago when the Security Council first issued its resolutions and the PLO was clear in its goals of liberation. Somewhere down the line, this just and justified cause has been watered down to the point that we are now haggling over details rather than holding fast to principles. Settlement blocs should be no different than settlement outposts or enclaves. Thousands of red-brick homes on Palestinian hilltops are just as illegal as a beaten up trailer parked in the orchard of a Palestinian landowner. They all – without exception – have to go.

– Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Originally published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org. Republished with permission.)

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