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Occupation and Settlement: The Myth and Reality (Conitnued I) By: David Meir-Levi
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, June 24, 2005


Part III: THE IMPACT OF SETTLEMENTS ON THE ARAB POPULATION

The impact of Israeli settlements that are not Rogue Settlements has been almost exactly the opposite of what the Arab propaganda claims.

It is important to note that from 1967 to 1992 – that is until the West Bank was turned over to the Palestinian Authority --  the population and economy of the West Bank grew substantially. The standard of living of the Palestinians, as well as the average per capita income, increased almost exponentially. This was in part due to the Israeli “Marshall Plan”, which expanded the infra-structure, modernized roads and the supplies of water, electricity, and sewerage, and made 20th century medical care available. Telephone and radio technology was up-graded to 20th century levels. Economic progress was also due in part to the integration of the Palestinian workforce into the Israeli economy by the employment of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in a wide variety of Israeli business and agricultural endeavors. The growth of tourism throughout the West Bank was a further boost to the area’s economy.  The population of the WBGS more than tripled from 1967 to 1994, with a total Arab WBGS of c. 950,000 in 1967 growing to more than 3,000,000 by 1994.  Seven universities, some sponsored in part by Jewish donors and the Israeli government, came into being where only three teacher training institutions had existed before. 

 

Rather than displacing Palestinians, the Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank stimulated substantial growth and improvement. It has been noted that when an Israeli settlement of any of the first four types was erected, areas around it that were hitherto uninhabited became foci for Palestinian shops selling agricultural goods and cottage industry wares to the Israelis. Later, Palestinian houses followed the shops.

 

Moreover, during the decades after 1967, there were no road-blocks or lock-downs or curfews (except on rare occasions when the Israeli military or central intelligence agencies learned of the presence of terrorists in a specific village or town).  WBGS Arabs shopped in Tel Aviv, and Jews shopped in east Jerusalem and Ramallah.

 

It is only since 1994, when 96% of Palestinians living in Israel came under the autonomous and independent control of the PNA (Palestinian National Authority, aka PA) that the economy of the WBGS has been crippled and the lives of the Palestinians wrecked by the PNA despotic and terrorist rule.  The West Bank’s GDP in 2003 was about one-tenth of what it was in 1992. Only because of Arafat’s terror war was Israel forced to implement now infamous and wildly exaggerated harsh measures to stop terror attacks and protect civilian lives.

 

It is also important to note that the so-called “apartheid roads” did not exist prior to Arafat’s 1994 ascent to power, nor are they apartheid.  During the decades from 1967 on, Israelis and Arabs used the same roads, many of which ran as main streets through the towns and villages of the West Bank, bringing in millions of tourist dollars to hitherto impoverished small-town Arab merchants.  Only after Arafat began his terror war, and Israelis driving through Arab towns found themselves in mortal danger, did Israel build the “Israelis only” (not “Jews only”) roads.  Rather than take punitive measures against Arab offenders who murdered or injured Israeli motorists (Jewish, Christian, and Moslem), the government decided instead to create this by-pass system so that Israelis could reach WBGS destinations without exposing themselves to terrorist attacks.

 

In sum, until Arafat began his terror war, the growth of Israeli population in the WBGS, and the expansion of Israeli villages and towns in those territories, was highly beneficial economically for the WBGS Arab populations, did not entail significant loss of Arab privately owned land, offered legal recourse to the rare cases of unfair expropriation, and was accompanied by a far, far greater growth of Arab population and settlements in the WBGS.

Part IV. THE ROLE OF SETTLEMENTS IN THE PEACE PROCESS

The role of the settlements in the context of the current conflict, and in the contentious issue of applying the “Road Map” to future peace negotiations, is perhaps the most complex and difficult issue to deal with, precisely because Arab propaganda has been so effective in establishing as axiomatic that the settlements are:

 

a.)     illegal

 

b.)    a symptom of Israel’s intent on conquest of Palestinian land and are thus inherently an obstacle to peace

 

c.)    a harbinger of Israel’s permanent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and hence make territorial compromise impossible

 

d.)    signal Israel’s inherently obvious unwillingness to negotiate a fair peace.

 

Therefore, it will be most useful to look at these Arab contentions, and see how they correspond to historical reality.

 

a.   Are the settlements illegal? We have just seen that except for the Rogue Settlements which the Israeli government does not condone, the settlements are legal under existing standards of international law.    

 

b.   Are the settlements an obstacle to peace? From 1949-1967 there were no settlements in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Nor was there peace. Arab belligerence was unrelated to West Bank and Gaza settlements. The settlements to which the Arabs objected at that time were Tel Aviv, Haifa, Hadera, Afula, etc.

 

In June, 1967, immediately after the Six Day War, and before there were any Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel proposed its dramatic peace initiative both at the UN and in sub rosa talks with Jordan.  This initiative was rejected by all Arab states and the PLO at the Khartoum Conference in August-September, 1967. The obstacle to peace was the very existence of Israel, not settlements in the West Bank.

 

i.          In 1979, as part of the accord with Egypt, Israeli settlements in Sinai were evacuated. In the context of a peace treaty, settlements are negotiable, can be, and were, dismantled.

 

 ii.      In 1979, as part of the accord with Egypt, Israel froze settlement expansion for three months, in order to encourage entry of Jordan into the Egypt-Israel peace process. Jordan refused. The freezing of settlements did not stimulate peaceful interaction.  Arafat too (then engaged in creating a terrorist state in south Lebanon) was invited to join Egypt at the peace talks, and this settlement freeze was intended to encourage his participation. He refused.  The existence of settlements in Sinai did not interfere with the Israel-Egypt peace accords; and the freeze on settlement activities did not encourage Jordan or the PLO to enter into peace accords.

 

   iii.      In 1994, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, while settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were growing in size and increasing in number. The existence and expansion of the settlements in no way impaired the peace process with Jordan.

 

c.   Do the settlements make territorial compromise impossible? The accords discussed at Madrid, Wye, Oslo and Taba all include the acknowledgement that settlements (a few, some, many, probably not all) will be dismantled in the context of a peace agreement. Those accords were discussed while settlements were expanding.  Settlements did not impede negotiation then.

 

   i.      Currently, c. 200,000 Jews live in a total of 144 communities scattered through the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 80% of these could be brought within Israel’s pre-67 borders with only a very minor re-arranging of “green line” boundaries.

 

   ii.      Part of Barak’s offer to Arafat in 2000 was the exchange of land such that the Palestinians would be compensated for the small number of settlements that would not be dismantled by the ceding of Israeli land within the pre-67 boundaries to the PNA.  This offer included c. 95% of all settlements in the WBGS.  Arafat rejected this offer, much to the surprise and chagrin of President Clinton.

 

   iii.      Does Israel’s violation of international accords by building the settlements show Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate a fair peace? Except for the Rogue Settlements, which Israel does not defend and will not support, there are no violations.

 

    iv.      the Camp David accords called for a 3-month moratorium on settlements. Menahim Begin kept this agreement (cf. supra, IV.b.iv)

 

   v.      the Oslo Accords say nothing about settlements. It was tacitly agreed informally that a moratorium on settlements would be one of sixteen “confidence building” measures that Israel and the PNA would undertake. The provision about not changing the “status” of the territories refers to the agreement that neither side would unilaterally annex the areas (or declare them an independent state). In the presence of glaring, overt, and provocative violations of every one of the Oslo Accords by the PNA almost immediately after its signing, Netanyahu’s government felt itself under no obligation to maintain the tacit informal agreement. Since the PNA was not building confidence, why should Israel compromise its security and position for future negotiation?

 

   vi.      While Israel has built a total of 144 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, more than 260 new Palestinian settlements have been constructed. These are concrete (excuse the pun) testimony to the flourishing of the West Bank’s economy and the growth of Palestinian population under Israeli control (1967-94), contrary to the Arab allegations that Israel has perpetrated genocide and crippled the economy of the West Bank. By what logic would anyone suggest that these Palestinian settlements are any less a threat to negotiations or a change of status of the territories than are the Israeli ones?

 

Bottom line: the settlements – except for the Rogue Settlements that Israel is ready to dismantle -- o are legal.  Their growth and expansion have contributed substantively to the economic improvement of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. When there were no settlements in the WBGS, no territorial compromises or peace settlements were reached; and later territorial compromises and peace agreements have been reached despite the existence of settlements in the WBGS. Israel’s settlements violate no international accords.

 

Thus it is irrational to suggest that Israeli settlement in the WBGS prevent peace. Rather, it is the unwillingness of the PNA and Arab terrorist groups to negotiate, not the presence of settlements, that stalls the peace process and makes compromise impossible.

Part V: WHAT ABOUT UNILATERAL WITHDRAWAL?

A.     Part of the intent in creating “uvdot bashetakh” (facts in the field) was to create “bargaining chips” for future negotiations.  They are one of the things that Israel will negotiate about. That is clearly what Netanyahu and Barak had in mind when they encouraged settlement expansion following Arafat’s violations of the Oslo Accords.  There is no rational justification for a one-sided curtailment of population growth when the other side maintains a state of war despite the agreement to curtail violence.

 

B.     The security needs that prompted the Alon Plan and Nahal settlements still exist, especially in light of the surge of terror activities sponsored openly by Hamas and at least nine other terror groups operating in Israel; and in light of many terrorist factions and Arab states that refuse to consider any peace with Israel, that continue to perpetrate Jew-hatred in media and education, and continue to promulgate the goals of Hamas and other terror groups for the total destruction of Israel.  The settlements and IDF presence in the major Arab population clusters of the West Bank reduce substantially the ability of terror groups to successfully launch their attacks.  Unilateral withdrawal enhances the ability of the terror groups to wage terror war.

 

C.     Any unilateral dismantling of settlements is likely to be interpreted by the PNA and terrorist leadership as a victory for terrorism.  This, in fact, is exactly what has happened following PM Sharon’s decision to unilaterally dismantle Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.  Terrorist spokespersons vociferously rejoice in the apparent success of their terror activity, which they claim is the real motivator for Sharon’s decision; while other PNA spokespersons level the accusation that the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is just another Israeli deception.  According to their logic, the unilateral withdrawal, instead of being a real concession to the Palestinian demand for national self-determination, is actually aimed at distracting the world and the Palestinian leadership so that Sharon can strengthen his hold on the West Bank and continue to expand Jewish settlement there. They argue that Sharon can now claim that Gilo, Jewish Hebron and the Gush Etzion areas are non-negotiable since Israel has given up so much in the Gaza Strip.  In other words, Sharon’s unilateral gesture has backfired very badly precisely because it is not part of a negotiation process.

 

D.     Netanyahu abandoned any thought of a settlement freeze after Oslo because the PNA made clear its intent to disregard Oslo and pursue a policy of unrelenting terror war. It is believed by some that part of his purpose in creating more settlements was to send Arafat a clear signal: ‘if you keep doing your anti-Oslo stuff, the area that you are likely to end up with as a Palestinian state is going to get smaller and smaller’. Sounds logical, especially since a military response may have been justified but would have caused world outrage. It didn’t work, even though a number of Palestinian intellectuals and political leaders (most notably, Elyas Freij, mayor of Bethlehem, quoted in the Washington Post in l991) publicly advocated negotiation because the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank made it clear that “time is on Israel’s side now”.

 

It did not work, probably, because Arafat never intended to negotiate. He always intended to perpetrate his long-dreamed final solution of the total destruction of Israel.  In his 90-minute cell-phone speech to a Lebanese PLO radio station on 4.14.2002 (from his bedroom of the Muqat’a which Israel had surrounded and partially destroyed in Operation Defensive Shield) he outlined his strategy. With the help of other Arab states, with the success of Arab propaganda to gradually weaken Israel’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world such that UN forces could be deployed to assist the Palestinians and impede the Israelis in a future battle, and with Israel’s only foul-weather friend (USA) having moral and political difficulty providing assistance to what was now defined as a renegade or rogue nation, the terror armies and their allies could use the West Bank as a launching pad for the great final Jihad against Israel.  Arafat’s intent as expressed in that speech has been corroborated by the Israeli destruction of major arms smuggling networks handling hundreds of tons of illegal (per Oslo) weaponry and munitions since 2001 (most recently the 50 tons of weapons on the Karine A and the scores of smuggling tunnels from Sinai to the Gaza Strip).

 

Bottom line: There is no rational justification for a one-sided settlement compromise when the other side maintains a state of war. Unilateral withdrawal enhances the ability of the terrorists to wage terror war. Sharon’s unilateral gesture backfired precisely because it was not part of a negotiation process.  In light of the unrelenting and vociferously ballyhooed commitment of terror groups, and Abbas’ frequent public statements commending the terror groups, defining their casualties as martyrs, and vowing to never use force against them, it is irrational to suggest that further Israeli concessions will generate a Palestinian willingness to reciprocate.  In fact, the opposite has happened.  The failure of Camp David 2 was due in large part to Arafat’s strategy of pocketing Barak’s concessions, making no substantive concessions in return, and then demanding more from Barak.

 

CONCLUSION:

 

Most Israeli settlements in the WBGS are legal and violate no international laws or relevant UN resolutions.  Most do not involve the theft of any Palestinian land. The settlement movement as part of Israel’s economic development of the WBGS after the Six Day War has provided enormous benefit to the Arabs of those areas and has enabled a tripling of Arab population and a skyrocketing West Bank economy, until the onset of Arafat’s rule. Settlements do not create stumbling blocks to peace or hindrances to peace negotiations. They can be, and have been, dismantled in the context of negotiations with an honest peace partner. Concessions about settlements should be made only in the context of negotiations, which can begin only after Palestinian leadership stops the violence, ends the terror war, and ends the hate speech and hate preach and hate teach that have permeated Palestinian society since 1994.

 

There is no issue relating to the Israeli settlements in the WBGS that could not be settled honorably to mutual satisfaction at the negotiating table between honest peace partners negotiating in good faith. The question of settlements is a matter for final status negotiations.

 

The simple fact is that no sovereign state would ever be expected to do otherwise.


David Meir-Levi lectures in English, Hebrew, and Spanish and is a contributor to Frontpagemag.com.


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