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How the Settler Suburbs Grew - NY Times (good Reading)

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  • Zafar Khan
    How the Settler Suburbs Grew By DAVID NEWMAN http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/21/opinion/21NEWM.html?todaysheadlines BEER SHEVA, Israel ? There is nothing that
    Message 1 of 1 , May 21, 2002
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      How the Settler Suburbs Grew
      By DAVID NEWMAN

      http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/21/opinion/21NEWM.html?todaysheadlines

      BEER SHEVA, Israel ? There is nothing that causes as
      much heated debate in Israel as the future of the
      settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. It is now clear
      to most Israelis that if there is ever going to be a
      final political agreement with the Palestinians, it
      will require that some, if not necessarily all, of the
      settlements be dislodged and evacuated. A permanent
      plan would have to create a Palestinian state that is
      compact and continuous ? unlike the disconnected
      wedges and enclaves of Palestinian autonomy areas that
      were created by the Oslo accord and that have left the
      settlements in place. Although this reality is
      undeniable, the practicality of settlement removal has
      largely been avoided by all Israeli governments,
      including those of the left, even as that avoidance
      makes the eventual uprooting of the growing settler
      population more difficult.

      There are today approximately 200,000 Jewish settlers
      living in a variety of West Bank and Gaza communities.
      They have arrived in those areas continually over the
      past 35 years, ever since Israel's occupation of the
      region after its victory in the 1967 war. For the
      first 10 years, settlement was limited to the eastern
      edges of the Jordan Valley by the Labor governments of
      Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. They did
      not allow settlements in the densely populated
      Palestinian upland areas, assuming that this area
      would eventually become an autonomous Palestinian
      region linked to Jordan.

      It was only after the Yom Kippur war of 1973 and, more
      important, the rise of Israel's first right-wing Likud
      governments, led by Menachem Begin from 1977 to 1983,
      that settlement policy was extended to include the
      whole of the West Bank region. Spurred on by the
      religious settler movement Gush Emunim, settlements
      began to sprout up throughout the mountainous interior
      as well as in close proximity to the "green line"
      boundary between Israel and the West Bank, with their
      inhabitants hoping to prevent any future Israeli
      withdrawal from those areas. Gush Emunim supporters
      believed that the land conquered in 1967 had been
      returned to its rightful owners as promised to their
      biblical ancestors by God. Hence, they were not
      interested in such practical problems as demography,
      security or the political rights of another people.
      And they set out to make it as difficult as possible
      for any government to relinquish the land in a future
      political agreement.

      From 1984 onward, Israel was governed by several
      national coalition governments ? perhaps more
      adequately described as governments of national
      paralysis ? consisting of the left-wing Labor and
      right-wing Likud parties. In each instance, the
      coalition agreements included a clause freezing all
      further settlement activity. And yet from 1984 to 2002
      the settler population increased from a mere 30,000 to
      approximately 200,000 (not including another 200,000
      living in East Jerusalem, which Israelis do not
      consider part of the West Bank).

      Even under Labor governments, settlement activity did
      not cease. Few new settlements were constructed, but
      all the existing settlements underwent consolidation
      and expansion as new neighborhoods were built, new
      settlers arrived, and a second generation of settler
      families grew up and made their homes in these places.


      In fact, the so-called settlement freeze proved to be
      a lifesaver for the many small communities that had
      been established under the Likud governments.
      Preventing the construction of additional settlements
      allowed small ones to grow to sizes that made them
      viable as functioning communities.

      The Likud governments, eager to keep the West Bank as
      part of Israel, actively promoted the growth of the
      settler population through large subsidies ? cheap
      land, low- interest mortgages and lower income tax
      rates for individuals, as well as subsidies to local
      government councils. (Labor governments attempted to
      cut back on these subsidies but often met with
      political opposition from their coalition partners.)
      Israelis moving to the West Bank side of the green
      line could exchange a small three- or four-room
      apartment in a crowded Israeli town for a bigger house
      in a low-density community, with government benefits
      not available to people living just a few miles away
      inside Israel proper. It was basically a case of
      suburban colonization.

      The settlements, like communities inside Israel, are
      governed by municipal and regional councils that
      provide public services and control land use planning
      and development. A recent study by B'tselem, an
      Israeli human rights organization, shows that while
      the built-up areas of the settlements take up only 1.7
      percent of the land in the West Bank, the area
      encompassed within the municipal boundaries of the
      settlements takes up 6.8 percent of the land. Regional
      councils, which provide services to smaller, scattered
      communities through a regional authority, govern an
      additional 35.1 percent. Together, these settlement
      councils effectively control 41.9 percent of the area
      in the West Bank.

      After decades of growth, these settlements have
      created a completely new landscape. They are no longer
      outposts on exposed hills, but are fully developed
      communities with schools, commercial centers,
      industrial zones and municipal services all created
      for the settler population ? needless to say, the
      Palestinian neighbors who occupy the same geographical
      space do not share in these benefits.

      The very solidity of these planned developments makes
      it almost impossible to remove all of the settler
      population. Instead, the debate, even among left-wing
      Israelis who oppose the settlements, is over how to
      redraw the future border between Israel and a
      Palestinian state in such a way as to retain as large
      a number of settlers and settlements on as little
      territory as possible. This would probably require
      transfer of an equal amount of territory from within
      Israel itself ? some have suggested the expansion of
      the Gaza Strip region ? as compensation for the
      settlement territory that would be formally annexed to
      Israel.

      But even if such a territorial solution were to be
      acceptable to both sides, this still leaves around 35
      percent to 40 percent of the settler population living
      in areas farther east, into the West Bank, who would
      have to be evacuated. Israelis left and right already
      fear a day when the government will have to send the
      army in to move these settlements if the settlers
      refuse to go. Even the best outcome would probably
      mean violent demonstrations of the type seen in the
      early 1980's when the Northern Sinai settlements were
      dismantled as part of the implementation of the
      Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement; a worst case would
      involve armed confrontation between soldiers and
      settlers. This is a major reason why even the Labor
      governments that negotiated and supported the Oslo
      accords did not stop settlement growth and instead
      allowed population expansion even at the cost of
      creating further resentment among the Palestinians.

      Now, however, public support of the settlements is
      declining. Recent surveys show that a majority of
      Israelis believe that eventually there will be a
      Palestinian state and that the settlements will have
      to move (and this regardless of the recent vote by the
      Likud Party to oppose the establishment of a
      Palestinian state). Early in the development of the
      settlements, settlers argued that their towns
      contributed to Israel's security. That is not accepted
      by most Israelis now, and in fact the settlements are
      seen for what they are, namely a security burden.
      Public support is likely to decline further if they
      are also perceived as the main obstacle on the way to
      a final peace agreement.

      Unlike other matters that will need to be negotiated
      with the Palestinians, the settlement problem, created
      and expanded by successive Israeli governments, will
      have to be resolved by Israel itself. For Israelis who
      have lived in the West Bank for more than 25 years,
      for those who were born there, there will be
      heartbreak, even if the government can give them
      housing elsewhere. That is one price they and Israeli
      society will have to pay for a stable peace.


      David Newman is chairman of the department of politics
      and government at Ben Gurion University of the Negev
      and editor of the International Journal of
      Geopolitics.



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