Middle East Watch
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“Settlement Freeze" or Strategic Deportation ?

The Alternative Information Center

12 janvier 2010, par Signe Fischer Smidt


The current “settlement freeze” is nothing but another act in the Israeli government’s theatrical play of showing the world that they are willing to make concessions in order to solve the conflict. Let us get one thing straight—the settlement construct ion continues, just as the strategic deportation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem continues. The rights of Palestinians are being violated on a daily basis and to them it becomes increasingly evident that the last thing on Netanyahu’s mind is exactly what he claims to be important—a solution to the conflict and to bring about peace.

On 26 November 2009, Netanyahu announced a much debated partial 10-month settlement freeze in order to get the peace talks back on track and to show the world he cares. By doing so, he followed up on promises made in his June 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, of not appropriating any land for the expansion of existing settlements.

The settlement freeze however did not include East Jerusalem and though the annexing of land continues throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem is the area that suffers the most from the Israeli expansion. From a diplomatic frame of reference the U.S., amongst others, has accepted the “settlement freeze” as a reality, even though it does not include East Jerusalem and even though settlement continues.

However, when it comes to peace talks, the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen have insisted on a full settlement freeze on all Palestinian land as a prerequisite to any peace talks—also concerning the evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. And who can blame the Palestinians ? No leader can or should accept the eviction of his people from their own land and the annexation of this land to a foreign state. If accepting such revisionist moves and jeopardizing the welfare of his citizens, Abu Mazen would, of course, lose his legitimacy and accountability to his constituency.

The distinction between settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem respectively complicates the picture of who does what, how and under what legislation. The distinction is also part of a deliberate strategy of making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem even more complicated to the mediators trying to solve it.

The West Bank Freeze
In order to understand the extent of the settlements let us have a look at both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, one at a time and let’s see how the “settlement freeze” functions on ground.

Starting with the West Bank, it is obvious that if Netanyahu is truly attempting to enforce a settlement freeze, he is completely incapable of implementing his policies and managing state affairs.

As such, the Defense Ministry recently approved the expansion of the settlement of Kiryat Netafim in the north of the West Bank, just as housing constructions continue in Ariel, Elkana North, Peduel and Kfar Tapuah. In the last-mentioned, 65 new housing units are planed for construction. According to a recent article in Haaretz. The expansion continues, despite the “settlement freeze” in more than 50 settlements and in four industrial zones, and according to Yesh Din, an organization working for Human Rights in Palestine, settlers have confiscated Palestinian farmland near the settlements of Bracha, Kochav Hashachar, Kfar Tapuah, Itamar, Elon Moreh, Susya and the outpost of Ivei Hanahal.

All these incidents shows how “the settlement freeze is turning out to be no more than media spin with no connection to reality” as stated by Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer. Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reinforced this inconsistency in implementation, or rather the deliberate policy of continuing expansion of Israeli facts on the ground, when he decided to ease the temporary construction freeze in the West Bank settlements. Accordingly, he permitted the expansion of existing constructions, such as adding rooms, and granted the local settlement municipalities the authority to hand out building permits aimed at construction after the 10-month freeze.

Obviously there is no real settlement freeze in the West Bank. Imagine then the hopeless situation in East Jerusalem, where there officially isn’t a freeze either.

East Jerusalem
Two weeks ago Israel’s Construction and Housing Ministry opened tenders for the construction of 692 new flats in the neighborhoods of Har Homa, Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Ya’akov.

Furthermore, a local construction and planning committee is reviewing blueprints for another 100 housing units on the site of the former Israeli police headquarters in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras al-A’moud. In addition, the Jerusalem Municipal Planning and Construction Committee have approved plans for three five-story buildings, housing 50 Jewish families, allowing for commerce at the entrance level in Shuafat and for four buildings next to the Beit Orot Yeshiva on the Mount of Olives, housing 24 Jewish families, the Jerusalem Post said last week.

In Sheik Jarrah, the eviction of Palestinian families continues, despite heavy protests and demonstrations. Six families have already been thrown out onto the street by settlers accompanied by police officers, and 20 families await the same destiny.

In Silwan, also know as the Historic or Holy Basin, just south of the Old City, 80 families are to be evicted in order to pave the way for an expansion archeological park of the City of David.

As noted above, these constructions are not considered by Israel to be in contradiction with the settlement freeze since East Jerusalem is exempted from this policy. But what should we then call these constructions ?

According to the Israeli government, there is a distinction to be made between the West Bank and Jerusalem. As Jerusalem is perceived as the capital of Israel, just as in any other city, the constructions here are merely examples of city planning and meeting the needs of an expanding population. This, of course, follows the logic of the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel captured East Jerusalem and soon after annexed it.

However, Palestinians consider Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to be illegal settlements, and, as such, impediments to peacemaking, which is obvious taken the violent evictions of entire families into consideration. Maybe these constructions are not “settlements” according to Israeli vocabulary, but they are not helping the situation either.

Obviously the eviction of entire families and the destroying of entire apartment buildings leave the Palestinians with the feeling that Israel does not want peace. According to Hasib Nashashibi from the ENSAN Center, the deliberate strategy to deport Palestinians from their homes is a disaster, both to the Palestinians and the prospect for peace negotiations. As it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain construction permits, when evicted families often move in with relatives or friends in other areas of East Jerusalem This adds pressure to the already poor infrastructure in the densely populated neighborhoods. Since job opportunities are better in Jerusalem, because their families live here and many of the evicted own property here, they of course want to stay in Jerusalem, which also allow them to keep their Jerusalem identity.

Adding an extra layer to the discussion, Hasib Nashashibi remarks that even though Palestinians pay compulsory taxes to the Jerusalem Municipality, which exercises authority over occupied East Jerusalem, they do not receive the goods and services one would expect from such taxes. In his neighborhood the roads are dirty, sewage is running through the streets and the education system is poor. The Palestinian citizens in East Jerusalem do not receive quality services adequate to the taxes they are paying to the municipality of Jerusalem. According to Hasib, when Israeli bulldozers destroy their plans and the investments their families have put into their homes and their lives, Palestinian Jerusalemites lose their hopes and dreams for the future. The neglecting of rights, confiscation of land, the Wall and the bureaucratic and discriminatory Municipality are all evidence of how the Israeli strategy is one of ethnic cleansing.

What Are We Going To Do About It ?
Several NGO’s are working towards the empowerment of Palestinians to claim their rights of housing and planning, such as, for example, the EU funded joint project by Bimkom and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The work of Bimkom and other such organizations have made it possible for many Palestinian families to file petitions to the Israeli High Court of Justice, but as written, when the ruling is in their favor there is a strong tendency for the state to claim the given area as a closed military zone or natural reserve, making any ruling invalid. In many cases, these nature reserves or military zones have quickly turned into settlements of Israeli Jews, adding to the frustration of the original Palestinian land owners.

From another perspective, the well-known Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy writes that we should simply encourage Netanyahu to come clean about Israeli policies. He should merely claim how Israelis “don’t want peace and thereby be the first Israeli leader ever to tell the truth in contrast to the superficial ‘two states for two peoples’ claim.” This way, as Levy puts is, “there will no longer be a need for his tiring and ridiculous maneuvering.

The curtain will fall. The performance will be over. It will then be possible for the makeup, masks and costumes to be removed and to follow the straight and narrow.”

What other explanation is there to the continuous evictions and the continuous and stubborn extension of settlements throughout the occupied territories ?
The intentions and clear cut strategy of the Israeli government is obvious to so many of us. Of course Netanyahu is attempting to annex more and more land to his empire, humiliating the Palestinians, forcing them violently off their land without compensation, pressuring them into despair. We all know it. Just as we know that settlements on occupied land are illegal under international law, which is why the Swedish presidency of the EU recently stated that they urge “Israel to reconsider these plans as it prevents the creation of an atmosphere conducive to resuming negotiations on a two-state solution.”

Let’s repeat this : We urge Israel to reconsider. It is not a second to late to claim that the jury has been out and it is clear that Israel have reconsidered. Or rather, Israel has decided and that decision is not to follow international law.

The continuation of settlements on the West Bank violates international law and the evictions in East Jerusalem violate any attempt of supposedly reaching out and getting peace talks back on track.

Palestinian homes and even tents are being torn down by the Israeli police and military and the families of these homes are being violently thrown onto the street. Imagine how that would feel. They are now refugees, and for many, this is the second time, since they were also forced to flee during the 1948 Nakba. Jerusalem should not be excluded from the peace talks, and by doing so, Israel is making peace negotiations impossible says Hasib Nashashibi who argues that, quite to the contrary, Israel is doing what it can to stop negotiations.

What is left to do is to try to reach out to the international actors who care. Actors who are involved both with financial resources and with an extensive number of man hours in to negotiations efforts. If you are listening, you should know that you are being fooled.

Facts on the ground show, very clearly, that you are seen as nothing but fools. You are nothing but a joke to Netanyahu, who talks relentlessly, but is obviously unwilling to do the walk. Quite to the contrary, he does the exact opposite of what he promises you. Are you going to let him fool you, or are you are here to actually get things done.

So, one question ; what are you going to do about it ?


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