Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Can a US-Israel deal on settlements stop the settlers?

7 September 2009

By Amos Harel, Haaretz 7 Sept 2009

So? Did the Americans know in advance about Israel’s intention to authorize 500 more housing units in the West Bank? And how long will the freeze – the temporary limitations on construction – last?

These are the main questions everyone is focused on, given the understandings reached between the U.S. and Israel.

The focus of the discussion is on points scored in the Obama-Netanyahu duel, but that is missing the point: will the agreement achieve its declared goal, which for the Americans means stopping construction, or at least substantially curtailing it?

The answer taking shape appears to be that it is possible, but only partially so – and that the freeze will be felt in the settlement blocks, those large settlements that are mostly to the west of the separation fence and are expected to remain part of Israel if there is ever an agreement.

On the other hand, in the wild east, on the ridge of the mountain, the land of the outposts, the chances for real enforcement of a freeze appear to be minimal.

To a great extent it can be argued that it is there, deep in the territories, where the real story lies.

That is where the dispute is substantive, and there are efforts to establish new facts on the ground, one dunam at a time.

Over the past decade, the settlers have been using the outposts to gradually expand the territory under their control, due to the state’s lack of control and minimal enforcement.

It is hard to believe that this will change, just because President Barack Obama wants it to.

The various governments have never seriously sought to enforce the law with regard to the outposts. Looking at this effort over time, we find that the steps, from 1999 (Havat Ma’on) to 2006 (Amona), have been limited, and all the while the gradual annexation continued.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows his control over the land of outposts is flimsy. He is not the one who will decide how many caravans will be placed on hill 725, or how many Palestinian orchards will be uprooted near Yitzhar.

A senior defense official told Haaretz: “Israeli law was never applied in these areas. Let us presume that the Civil Administration identifies more building violations at an outpost. What will they do? They will stick another warrant on the caravan wall, asking them to get out. They will not even bother ripping it down, and they will just go on with their business.”

If this has been the attitude of the outpost residents, it can be expected only to get worse when the freeze goes into effect. If the settlers believe they have lost this round, they have no reason to play by the rules. As for the settlement blocks, the situation is different: the projects are large and involve huge investments and major contractors. They cannot build without state permission; without, they risk serious losses.

Thus the absurdity: In Beitar Ilit, which will stay under Israeli control, construction will cease.

But in Mitzpeh Yitzhar and the agricultural lands nearby, business will go on as usual, even though the settlers’ success there will mean a death blow to the two-state solution – which Netanyahu was forced to back during his speech at Bar-Ilan University.

The Americans will know what is happening; they don’t miss much between the satellites and CNN. What they do miss will be filled in by Peace Now and its associate organizations.

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