Counterpoint: Undermining Annapolis

Not only does illegality beget immorality, it ultimately gives birth to stupidity.

daivd forman  (photo credit: Rabbis for Human Rights)
daivd forman
(photo credit: Rabbis for Human Rights)
It is impossible to know if the Annapolis peace conference will lead to a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Regrettably, actions on the ground do not bode well for the success of future discussions. It is easy for us in Israel to trumpet the manifold Palestinian violations of agreements reached at Annapolis that undermine negotiations - continued terror attacks, arms smuggling, Kassam rockets being fired at Sderot, and the lack of democratic and judicial institutions in the Palestinian Authority. However, I would prefer to address one particular violation over which we have control, which is a contravention not only of the understandings reached in Annapolis, but of all agreements over the past years. In every agreement between Israel and the PA, one of the crucial elements includes the freezing of settlement construction. Yet it never fails: Before the ink is dry on any accord we initial, we announce new settlement activity. After the Oslo Accords, while prime minister Yitzhak Rabin halted the building of new settlements, he continued with the expansion of existing ones. Binyamin Netanyahu signed the Wye Plantation Accord, and then immediately approved the controversial Har Homa project next to Bethlehem. While Ehud Barak was negotiating peace terms at Camp David, the construction of illegal settlements flourished. After the Road Map was accepted, many caravan outposts suddenly were legalized under Ariel Sharon's stewardship. And now, no sooner did our prime minister return from Annapolis than we broadcast that not only will new homes be constructed in Har Homa, but also a new neighborhood in Atarot, a stone's throw from Ramallah, will be built. All the while, established settlements are continually spreading their wings, confiscating and expropriating Arab lands. We excuse these additions to present settlements under the guise of "natural growth," even as we demolish one Palestinian home after the other in east Jerusalem to prevent Arab natural growth. THERE IS another phenomenon to which Israeli authorities turn a blind eye: Illegal building within recognized settlements. According to statistics from the Civil Administration, from 1997 to 2007 it issued 3,450 demolition orders for structures in the settlements, but demolished only 207. Again, if an east Jerusalem Palestinian family adds on one room without a permit, the entire home is destroyed. Under international pressure, prime minister Sharon appointed a legal expert to examine the scope of settlement construction in the territories. In March 2005, attorney Talia Sasson submitted her conclusions in a report containing more than 300 pages. The report accounted for numerous illegal settlements, new settlements and expansions of existing ones. It is not clear which government agency approves settlement building. Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Rafi Eitan tells Army Radio that Israel never promised to halt construction within the municipal borders of Jerusalem, whose eastern sector was annexed at the close of the Six Day War. Eitan argues that new construction in Har Homa, the new neighborhood in Atarot and adding housing units in Ma'aleh Adumim are therefore legitimate. Ehud Olmert claims that these projects were never approved by the government. If that is the case, how is it that the army or the Civil Administration or the Israel Lands Administration or the Construction and Housing Ministry authorizes new settlements seemingly at will? Is our government so dysfunctional that virtually any bureaucrat can determine policy? What is most astonishing is that the government admits there are approximately 50 illegal settlements, but, despite promises by every successive government to remove them, with the exception of a pitiful few, they still stand, slowly gaining de facto legal status, including hilltop encampments like Havat Gilad, Ma'on and Sussiya, along with dozens of similar ones. There is a syllogism that is at play in the constructing and populating of illegal settlements - illegal activity breeds immoral behavior. The settlers in some of these hilltop enclaves continually harass Palestinian villagers, chopping down their olive trees and vineyards, poisoning their sheep, polluting their land, physically threatening and attacking them and, especially, intimidating the Palestinian cave dwellers in the southern Hebron Hills - none of whom are a threat to Israel's security. But, not only does illegality beget immorality, it ultimately gives birth to stupidity. We have created a public relations fiasco. Seizing Palestinian land in the middle of the West Bank for a Jewish community cannot be explained away, specifically to our American friends who send aid to us annually to the tune of billions of US tax dollars. Indeed, continued settlement building plans have drawn rare criticism from the United States, saying it undermines Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Failure of the peace talks will be blamed squarely on us. President George W. Bush is about to arrive. He should confront Mr. Olmert, who reneged on his pledge to him to freeze settlements. He should demand that Israel immediately cease settlement activity of any kind, and tear down every illegal commune, not because it would be a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians, but because Israel's settlement policy is a breach of the Bush administration's Road Map for peace, and concomitantly makes a mockery of the Annapolis conference. But, the ultimate reason that the president should call Israel on the carpet is because our country's "in-your-face" settlement industry makes a viable, contiguous Palestinian state all but impossible, and thus sabotages the success of any peace negotiations, which means that we, not just the Palestinians, are perpetuating the conflict.