Israelis over Green Line confident they will stay put

At Ariel University, about five percent of the students are Arabs – mostly Arab citizens of Israel, but some from east Jerusalem.

Palestinian with flag W. Bank370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Torokman)
Palestinian with flag W. Bank370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Torokman)
When Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resume in the region later this month, one of the first issues expected to be on the agenda will be the fate of Jewish communities in post-1967 land. While statistics vary, there are more than 500,000 Israelis living on land the Jewish state acquired in 1967 and that is being claimed by Palestinians for their future state.
Of these, about 180,000 live in areas of Jerusalem that have been annexed to the state of Israel. Even Palestinian negotiators have admitted, albeit privately, that they do not believe Israel will give up its claim to what Israel calls neighborhoods and the Palestinians call settlements, like Gilo, French Hill and Ramot.
In the West Bank, there are three settlement blocs, where the majority of the Israelis live. The first is the Jerusalem suburb of Ma’aleh Adumim, with its 30,000 residents, just a few miles east of Jerusalem. Then there is the Gush Etzion bloc just south of Jerusalem near Bethlehem, several towns of which were first built in the 1940s and destroyed by the Arab Legion before the 1948 war. Today, the Etzion bloc is home to 22 post-1967 Jewish communities with a population of 70,000 Israelis.
The third group is called the Ariel bloc, anchored by the community of Ariel with 18,500 residents and a university with a student body of 13,500. Other communities surround Ariel. The Israelis who live in Ariel say they’re not worried that, even if there is a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, they will have to leave their homes.
“There’s no concern for the future of Ariel but there is concern for other communities across Judea and Samaria,” Avi Zimmerman, the director of the Ariel Development Fund told The Media Line using the Biblical names for areas of the West Bank. “Every Israeli government has consistently insisted on certain regions beyond the green line (the pre-1967 borders) that will forever be Israel. Neither this government nor future governments will shift that essential baseline.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry was quoted last week as telling Congress that he believes 85-percent of the settlement blocs will remain under Israeli control in any final agreement with the Palestinians. Many diplomats and politicians insist that except for official recognition of the plan, both sides have long acknowledged that a final deal will include land swaps to compensate the Palestinians for the remaining Israeli presence. But last week Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas raised eyebrows when he declared that after a deal is cut, “not a single Israeli – civilian or soldier” -- will remain on post-1967 land. One of Israel’s oldest communities in post-67 areas, Ariel was founded by 40 families in 1978 led by founding-mayor Ron Nachman. Present Mayor Eliyahu Shviro says that there is a housing shortage in Ariel.
“There is building but not as much as I would want to see,” he said. “We have a shortage. If the government would give us permission, we could build 800 housing units. Prices here are very high because there is a lot of demand. I want the government to allow us to build so our children can live and develop there.”
The European Union (EU) recently formalized a policy not to give any aid to any Jewish communities in post-67 areas. Shviro says he thinks they’re making a mistake.
“I wish the EU would come and visit us in Ariel to see coexistence and how people live together. In our industrial zone we have Palestinian workers next to Jewish workers,” he said. “They earn 4 or 5 times [more than] what they would earn in Nablus or Ramallah.”
At Ariel University, about five percent of the students are Arabs – mostly Arab citizens of Israel, but some from east Jerusalem. There is one Arab lecturer as well, Nael Ghnaim, who teaches civil engineering.
“People come to the university to learn, not to do anything else,” he told The Media Line. “I have Arab students, Jewish students, Russian students. It doesn’t matter.”
Ghnaim has just completed his first year as a lecturer and sees no reason not to continue. While there was some gossip about his teaching in a post-67 community, he insists that nobody actually came out and demanded that he give up his position.
At the same time, he says that for a peace deal, perhaps Israel should leave Ariel.
“Everybody just wants quiet,” he says. “At the university I don’t feel anything but when I go through the checkpoint, I remember that things are different here. Maybe for a peace deal, it would be worth it.”
Mayor Shviro agrees.
“I support an agreement as long as Ariel remains part of Israel,” he said. “The question is if the other side (the Palestinians) wants an agreement and here I have some doubts, unfortunately. Hamas already says they won’t observe any agreement that Mahmoud Abbas makes.”
Referring to Israel’s controversial unilateral pull-out from the Gaza Strip, Shviro said that, “In Gaza, in 2005, we withdrew unilaterally and instead of a hand outstretched in peace we got rockets.”
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