In Arab News (Saudi Arabia)
April 21, 2008
In case a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli accord is reached by the end of this year, as espoused by US President George Bush, Israel is taking no chances. It is seeking whatever it can get its hands on should a peace deal that includes a Palestinian state be reached. Hence, the announcement that 100 new houses will be built in a West Bank settlement.
The Israeli government argues that it is building new houses in existing settlements, not establishing new settlements. But all Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. Even the United States has pressed Israel to dismantle about two dozen outposts to comply with the road map peace plan that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and other areas. Instead, Israel will now go the other way, building 100 houses in the settlement of Ariel as a reward for the recent voluntary evacuation of two unauthorized outposts that held fewer than 10 mobile homes.
Israel’s largesse in granting settlement licenses is boundless. Since the Annapolis conference in November, Israel has announced several new building projects in areas of Jerusalem the Palestinians will need for their future state. However, the latest announcement has an additional asterisk, for it marks the first time the Israeli government has approved construction deep in the West Bank. Which is why the optimism shown by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this month seemed unwarranted. The new settlement expansion drive, which has been described as phenomenal, includes more than 600 settler units to be built on confiscated Arab land in East Jerusalem. The Israeli government also approved the building of 800 additional settler units in the Beitar Illit colony, an ultraorthodox settlement in the West Bank while agreeing to the construction of an undisclosed number of prefabs in small settlements in the southern Hebron region to be allocated to new immigrants.
Israeli government-supported, Jewish-only settlements cut a swathe across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They are built on expropriated Palestinian-owned land, in direct contravention of the UN Security Council decisions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbid the transfer of civilians from the occupying state to the occupied territory. Although the immediate physical ground occupied by these settlements represents only 1.6 percent of the West Bank, the total land area which has to be controlled to allow them to function amounts to an incredible 41.9 percent. What this indicates is that while efforts to address the violence in the region are being pursued, the expansion of one of the fundamental reasons for that violence continues uncontested. All peace efforts are doomed to failure as long as the true nature of Israeli operations remains unchallenged.
Palestinians called off the peace negotiations briefly earlier this year in response to settlement construction. They should think seriously of doing the same again.
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