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A new freezing point

By: GI Signatory Shaul Arieli, Ha'aretz

05.01.2010

 

Israel's political and unilateral moves in the past decade have shown that its position on the borders with the Palestinians is divorced from the requirements of security, water supply and infrastructure. They are dictated by one factor alone: the settlements. Israeli prime ministers, only too aware of their domestic political weakness, want to avoid any significant evacuation of settlers.
 
Meanwhile, not only have they done nothing to block the increase in the numbers of settlers, they have failed to funnel that increase into areas they want to annex and distinguish between the varying interests of the different settler groups. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agrees to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, subject to a timetable and clear-cut topics to be discussed, he may find that a differentiated application of the construction freeze in the territories could have a positive result.
 
During talks with the Palestinians, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni drew maps of the future borders. Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz tried to reach those lines through unilateral moves like the security fence and the disengagement. Altogether, the Israeli position since the end of 2000 has been to annex 6 percent to 8 percent of the West Bank.
Although the border is planned to snake around for more than 800 kilometers, almost three times the length of the Green Line, it neither creates strategic depth nor includes security zones (with the demilitarization of the Palestinian state substituting for these).
 
Neither does it ensure Israeli control over aquifers, strategic roads or areas that dominate Israel's coastal plain and the airfields there. All it amounts to is a winding line between Jewish and Arab communities, whose purpose is to leave 80 percent of the settlers under Israeli sovereignty and to avoid annexing Arabs.
 
If the government had concentrated settlement growth on the Israeli side of this line since entering the political process in 1993, only 20,000 Israelis would have to be evacuated today. But while the number of settlers in this area has grown by slightly more than twofold, diplomatic myopia and domestic political weakness have led to an increase in the numbers beyond that line by a factor of five. Israel has settled 80,000 people, at an outlay of billions, outside the areas it is demanding, only to have to evacuate and compensate them in any future peace agreement.
 
One-fifth of the exceptions to the construction freeze have been allocated to settlements outside this line, and the national priority map has recently been extended to include these isolated locations. These steps strengthen precisely those settlements that account for most of the per-capita excesses over the Israeli average in security, infrastructure and education. Once more the diplomatic and economic folly inherent in their very existence has been underlined.
 
Most of the demographic growth inside the line has been in Betar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit; this is why a third of West Bank settlers are now ultra-Orthodox. These towns are on the Green Line, and they were built mainly to relieve housing shortages in the Haredi community. These places will be annexed to Israel, even under every Palestinian proposal submitted so far.
 
Beyond this line, most settlers are the heirs of Gush Emunim who reject any possibility of sharing the country. Therefore, the decision to apply the construction freeze to the Haredim, who have to open a new kindergarten every week in Modi'in Ilit, is a cynical subjugation of their interests to those of the rulers of the land of the illegal outposts.
 
With the resumption of negotiations, it will be possible to separate areas using a different freeze line; to weaken the opponents of the two-state solution who are concentrated beyond the line laid by Israel. This will also strengthen the coalition needed for resuming talks and reaching a final-status agreement in which 80 percent of the settlers finally find themselves living in a Jewish and democratic State of Israel.