B'Tselem's Jessica Montell on Israel's settlements

Jessica Montell, Executive Director of B’Tselem [the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories] has just written on Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel that:
the implications of settlements extend far beyond land issues. Settlements bring with them a host of hardships for Palestinians, ranging from restrictions on movement to obstacles to sewage treatment. They dictated the winding route of the Separation Barrier deep in the West Bank which in turn causes more hardships. Perhaps the most disturbing feature of this landscape is the entrenchment of two completely separate and discriminatory legal systems in a single area. In some cases, Palestinians and Israelis literally live side by side, yet the former are governed by military law while the latter enjoy all the benefits of Israeli democracy. This discrimination is manifest in almost every sphere of life: access to justice, due process, protection from violence, planning and building codes, access to water, and much more. Israel repeatedly promised to halt construction in settlements. This was explicitly part of the 2003 Road Map agreed with the Quartet as well as the 2007 Annapolis conference under the Bush administration. Despite this, settlements continued to grow, and at a much faster rate than the Israeli population as whole. While Israel argued that this “natural growth” cannot be stopped, it also continued to provide a myriad of financial benefits to encourage Israelis to move to settlements, including free preschools, a long school day, housing and mortgage subsidies, grants and subsidies for industry and agriculture, tax breaks and government assistance to municipalities to cover their debts. It is no wonder that in 2008 fully 20 percent of settlement growth was the result of migration from Israel proper“… This can be read in full here.

Gideon Levy profile: Oslo "peace talks" were a scam from the start (17 years ago)

In a profile of Israeli journalist Gideon Levy of Haaretz, who has chronicled Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory for decades, Johann Hari of The Independent evokes his thoughts on the peace process.

He starts with Oslo: “Levy believes the greatest myth – the one hanging over the Middle East like perfume sprayed onto a corpse – is the idea of the current “peace talks” led by the United States. There was a time when he too believed in them. At the height of the Oslo talks in the 1990s, when Yitzhak Rabin negotiated with Yassir Arafat, ‘at the end of a visit I turned and, in a gesture straight out of the movies, waved Gaza farewell. Goodbye occupied Gaza, farewell! We are never to meet again, at least not in your occupied state. How foolish!’ Now, he says, he is convinced it was ‘a scam’ from the start, doomed to fail. How does he know? ‘There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need’. He says Netanyahu has – like the supposedly more left-wing alternatives, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni – always opposed real peace talks, and even privately bragged about destroying the Oslo process. In 1997, during his first term as Israeli leader, he insisted he would only continue with the talks if a clause was added saying Israel would not have to withdraw from undefined military locations’ – and he was later caught on tape boasting: ‘Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo accords’. If he bragged about ‘stopping’ the last peace process, why would he want this one to succeed? Levy adds: ‘And how can you make peace with only half the Palestinian population? How can you leave out Hamas and Gaza?’.”

He continues: “These fake peace talks are worse than no talks at all, Levy believes…

Continue reading Gideon Levy profile: Oslo "peace talks" were a scam from the start (17 years ago)

Gershon Baskin: It's the OCCUPATION

Gershon Baskin, co-Chairman with Palestinian Hanna Siniora of the Israeli-Palestinian media center, who has also become a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, wrote this week that “At the outset of Oslo, the world, including the Arab world (and also including the supporters of peace in Israel and in Palestine), actually believed that the peace process was about ending the occupation, peace between two states living side-by-side, building cross-boundary cooperation in every field possible, ending violence and ending the conflict. During those optimistic days, several countries without diplomatic relations with Israel established them, and several Arab countries even allowed it to open commercial interests offices in their countries. Some Arab countries even opened their own representative offices in Israel. This was possible because they believed the Oslo peace process would bring an end to the occupation. They had good reason to believe that. The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of September 1995 stated clearly: ‘The two sides agree that West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, except for issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will come under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Council in a phased manner, to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the council’. The agreement further stated: ‘Redeployments of Israeli military forces to specified military locations will commence after the inauguration of the council and will be gradually implemented’. The interpretation of these sections was that prior to the beginning of permanent status agreements Israel would have withdrawn from more than 90 percent of the West Bank. The US and the Palestinian calculated then that the land area connected to permanent status negotiations, meaning the settlements, accounted for 2%-5% of the West Bank (counting the built-up areas of the settlements with a radius of about 100 meters from the last home in each settlement). The ‘specified military locations’ was estimated to account for about 2% of the West Bank. When Binyamin Netanyahu was first elected in 1996, a ‘conflict’ of interpretation developed between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry. At that time I saw a document produced by the legal department of the Foreign Ministry explaining that the new interpretation of the Prime Minister’s Office was incorrect. It stated the following: According to the Prime Minister’s office, the settlement areas in question are based on the statutory planning maps of the civil administration and not on the built-up areas. Those zoning maps provide the settlements with about 40% of the West Bank. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s office stated that instead of ‘specified military locations’ the real intention was ‘security zones’ – meaning that the entire Jordan Valley is a security zone, all of the areas around settlements are security zones, the bypass roads to settlements are security zones, and so are all of the lands adjacent to the Green Line. In other words, 60% of the West Bank would remain in Israeli hands, and in the negotiations with the Palestinians Israel would retain well above 10% of the West Bank, and if possible more. This, according to the Palestinians and even the US, was a major breach of the agreement and it was one of the significant reasons for the failure of the entire process. At that point, the process ceased to being about ending the occupation … Ariel Sharon always believed, as did other Likud leaders,that the settlements would be the best way of preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. It turns out that they were probably right. Many today even question the very viability of a Palestinian state because of the settlements. Yet the entire international community … believes that a Palestinian state must be established on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders. There is no other solution to the conflict. Instead of dealing with that reality, the government is trying to pressure the US and the EU to transform the peace process into a regional peace process. Netanyahu, Barak and other members of the government think that if they agree to a three-month settlement freeze, not including Jerusalem, the world will consent. The EU and the US in private meetings with Netanyahu and in public statements have insisted that Israel must focus on the settlement issue and not on tricks to avoid making the difficult decisions. All settlement building must stop”…

But, what is actually happening?

Eminent Israeli Law Professor on Settlements

Amnon Rubenstein, an eminent Israeli professor, has denounced the Israeli settlement enterprise as undemocratic, discriminatory, and against international law, in an article published in today’s Jerusalem Post.

Professor Rubenstein wrote: “Settling Jews outside of Israel proper is – it is submitted – illegal in international law and is defective morally. The fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel has signed and ratified, prohibits such settlements. True, the Knesset has not translated these provisions into Israeli legislation, but in the opinion of this writer such an act of domestic reception is unnecessary as the convention by its very definition relates to occupied territories which lie outside the limits of Israeli law and jurisdiction. At any rate, Israel accepts the humanitarian provisions of this convention, and the Supreme Court has acted upon these provisions. The government has declared, in sworn affidavits, that settlements in occupied territories are there for a limited duration and are justified by military considerations.

These declarations are, to put it mildly, not accurate.

THESE SETTLEMENTS, established at great cost to provide housing for tens of thousands of Jews, are seen as permanent communities; the uprooting of settlements from the Gaza Strip was a heartrending experience even for those who advocated this decision at the time.
For successive Israeli governments to state the opposite and for the courts to accept this blatant untruth, has been an exercise in unmitigated insincerity.

But the issue is not merely one of international law. By establishing purely Jewish communities in the West Bank and by applying an Israeli legal system to their residents, Israel has created a dual system within the same territory – one applicable to Jews, and one to Arabs. This duality has had a negative impact on Israeli public life, has rightly antagonized many of our friends and is responsible for the radicalization of the Israeli Left.

It also nullifies the equation often made between these settlements and the ones established by the yishuv under the British mandate. The socialist settlers of the past saw themselves as precursors of a Jewish state in which Jews and Arabs shared the same equality by law and never dreamt of any separation between Arabs and Jews. Add to this the flouting of Israel’s undertaking to stop establishing and expanding these settlements, and you will begin to understand the folly of the Givat Ze’ev decision.

In short, Israel, according to its basic laws, aspires to be both Jewish and democratic. Its outposts in the West Bank are Jewish, but not democratic“.   This piece is published in the JPost here .

Israel preparing to build in East Jerusalem – says it is not occupied

News agencies are reporting this evening that Israel has put out a call for bids “to build more than 300 new homes in a disputed east Jerusalem neighborhood”.

Actually, the area affected is Har Homa, just outside Bethlehem (which is just to the south of the main area of Jerusalem); the site is known in Arabic as Jebel Gheneim, and when Israel first began building on this hill top between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 1997 — in the middle of the Oslo process — the UN Security Council met in crisis session for weeks on the matter.

Har Homa settlement on Jebel Abu Gheneim - Ma'an Images

The Jebel Gheneim area was one of the most beautiful green wooded hilltops in Palestine, say the Palestinians. Now, it is covered with buildings, and a 10-or 12-story hotel has gone up recently, apparently to accomodate visitors.

The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ), which is actually located just inside The Wall in Bethlehem, offers these views:

ARIJ photo - Jebel Abu Gheneim in 1997

Here are two images of Jebel Abu Gheneim/Har Homa from 1997 posted on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website —
(1) the view of the green forest:

Har Homa - Jebel Abu Gheneim in 1997

(2) Planned construction – red indicates roads, green indicates open public areas, other colors indicate various construction plans

1997 aerial view from Israeli Foreign Ministry Website

AP reported today that “A Housing Ministry spokesman said 307 units would be built in Har Homa, a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem … Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he sent an urgent message to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking her to block the project from moving forward”.

However, Israel says this is not a settlement, so it will not be frozen, as Israel should do if it’s to fulfill its Phase One Road Map requirements. AP added that ” ‘Israel makes a clear distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem’, said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. ‘Israel has never made a commitment to limit our sovereignty in Jerusalem. Implementation of the first phase of the road map does not apply to Jerusalem’.” The AP news report is posted here.

Agence France Press reported that “The Palestinians slammed the move as an attempt to undermine the renewed peace drive which was officially launched after a seven-year hiatus at an international peace conference in the United States last week. ‘The Israel Land Administration has published a tender for the construction of 307 housing units in Har Homa’, an official in the housing ministry told AFP, referring to a neighbourhood in east Jerusalem. At the Annapolis conference last week, Israel and the Palestinians pledged to implement the 2003 roadmap plan, the first phase of which calls on Israel to freeze all settlement activity and for Palestinians to improve security … Israel does not consider construction in east Jerusalem — which it captured in the 1967 Six-Day war — as settlement growth because it annexed the Arab part of the Holy City shortly after the conflict [actually, Israel extended its administration to East Jerusalem in 1967, but it announced only in 1980 that Jerusalem would be Israel’s eternal and undivided capital — the UN declared this action null and void, and, despite Israel’s invitation, only three or four countries have moved their embassies to Jerusalem]. ‘The neighbourhood is under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality and does not require any authorisation of the defence ministry’, which issues construction permits for settlements in the West Bank, the official said. But the annexation of east Jerusalem has not been recognised by the international community, and Palestinians want to make it the capital of their future state. Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erakat lambasted the move, which comes a week before Israeli and Palestinian teams are to hold their first talks on a permanent peace deal which the sides aim to clinch by the end of 2008. ‘This blatant Israeli violation of the roadmap will destroy any trust among all the nations that have participated in the Annapolis conference’, Erakat said in a statement. ‘If Israel does not backtrack and cancel this settlement decision it will undermine the results of the Annapolis conference before they have even begun to be implemented’, he added”. The AFP report is here.