Israel announced new building projects in Yehuda and Shomron
and the United States did not issue a protest.
A report in The New York Times called it a shift in the
However on Monday a State Department spokesman denied that
the U.S. administration has changed its policy regarding the
construction of new homes in West Bank settlements. He
insisted that settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip must stop.
The Israeli government announced plans to build over 1,000
homes in various areas that are called settlements, but it
was not noticed in most places that the areas are not
generally little outposts but rather large urban communities
that are near the green line. The 1,000 homes include 600 in
Beitar Illit, a chareidi city of about 20,000 just to the
south of Jerusalem that is not populated with right-wing
Israelis, and Maaleh Adumim a city of around 30,000 that is
just to the east of Jerusalem. In any realistic settlement,
the Jews living on both these cities would be allowed to
The announcement came as Sharon struggled to win over his
Likud Party on his plan to "disengage" from the Palestinians.
"Sharon needs to convince Israeli hawks that there is a trade-
off for quitting the Gaza Strip," a senior Prime Minister's
Office source said. "That means making it clear that West
Bank enclaves will grow."
According to Ha'aretz, the United States decided to
keep quiet on Sharon's behalf after the Likud Central
Committee voted against his bid to bring the opposition Labor
Party into a "national unity" government.
Israel has long argued that it should be allowed to develop
settlements in order to cope with their "natural growth."
Sharon is under pressure from the right, and the US
administration is also in the middle of elections in which it
is seeking Jewish support from US voters.
Bush signaled his theoretical support for Israel's retaining
West Bank settlement blocs last April, when he said after a
historic White House meeting with Sharon that "it is
unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status
negotiations will be a full and complete return to the
armistice lines of 1949."
The Arab world still clings to their strategy of not giving
anything up, and not even promising to give anything up. They
do not recognize Israel and they do not give up terror.
The Israeli government has launched an Administration for
Assistance to Gaza Strip Residents (Sela -- Siyu'a
Letoshavei Aza), to coordinate compensation for the
settlers. Those who leave willingly could receive as much as
$300,000 per family according to some reports, though no
official figures have yet been published.
Ariel Sharon has not been much in the public eye since his
humiliating defeat at the Likud Party convention. He remains
committed to his disengagement plan, but none of the
alternatives for a government looks particularly good.
The message from the convention was that party members are
intent on preventing Labor from entering the government.
There is much broader agreement about that than about the
prime minister's disengagement plan, but the implication was
that the Likud also opposed the plan to pull Israeli troops
and settlers out of Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank
It seems possible that Sharon could continue with the
minority government he now has. Hardly anyone wants to topple
the government and hold new elections. However such a weak
government would probably not be able to carry out the
disengagement plan or much of anything else.
Sharon has said that he will continue negotiations with
Labor. Though he and Labor leader Shimon Peres would like to
form a government, that does not seem likely. Peres has his
own internal opposition that does not want to join with
There has been talk of a stable coalition with both the anti-
religious Shinui Party and the chareidi parties. Though
Shinui has announced that it will not oppose this in
principle, UTJ has said repeatedly that it will not sit with
Shinui. Shinui would probably not accept Shas in any case.
For a government, Sharon could easily bring in all the
chareidim and the far-right. This would give him a
comfortable majority and a stable government based on the
formula that the Likud has always followed since it came to
power about 30 years ago. However this would likely lead to
the shelving of Sharon's disengagement plan.
Calling early elections is not a way out for Sharon either.
Having alienated many of the Likud stalwarts, Sharon may not
get the party nomination for prime minister.
Some analysts suggested that Sharon could break up the Likud
and form a "centrist" alliance composed of Likud breakaways,
Labor and Shinui. This might be tempting to Sharon given his
penchant for bold moves, but it is very risky. Sharon, Peres
and Shinui leader Tommy Lapid are all in their 70s and 80s
and it is not clear if they are up to the challenge.
Polls show such an alignment would win about 60 Knesset
seats. But those are speculative results and there is no
saying how the voters will react once they see the actual
Within the Likud there have been suggestions that Sharon work
closer with Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign
Minister Silvan Shalom, both of whom have considerable
influence within the party. The Likud's Reuven Rivlin, the
Knesset Speaker, proposed that Sharon and Netanyahu agree in
advance on a leadership rotation: Sharon would be prime
minister for two years after the next election, and then make
way for Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, Col. (res.) Danny Tirza, who is in charge of the
security barrier's construction, told the Knesset Foreign
Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that a section of
Highway 443 from Beit Horon to the Maccabim junction will be
outside the new route of the security fence.
Tirza said that other measures would be taken to protect the
road, including concrete blocks along its sides, and visual
barriers. Highway 443 is the shortest route between
Yerushalayim and Kiryat Sefer and hundreds of avreichim
use it every day.
Analysts said that the road could probably be made just as
secure even if it is left outside of the security barrier,
but the psychological impact of having to travel even a short
distance outside that barrier is hard to predict.
The change is part of a new route from Elkana to Jerusalem
that was designed following a decision by the Israeli High
Court of Justice in June that the former fence route did not
sufficiently balance Palestinian human rights with Israel's
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague ruled
this summer that construction of the fence beyond the pre-
1967 border is illegal.
Although Israel has insisted that it is only listening to its
High Court of Justice ruling, the new route is closer to the
The former fence route from Elkana to Machaneh Opher included
34,000 (8,500 acres) dunams that were beyond the old Green
Line. The new route leaves only 15,000 dunams (3,750 acres)
between the fence and the Green Line.
Construction will be pushed off from the end of the 2004 to
2005 and costs increased by NIS 25 million to NIS 37m.,
according to Tirza.
In a related development, the government should "thoroughly
examine" formally applying the Fourth Geneva Convention --
which governs the treatment of civilians in occupied
territory -- to Yehuda and Shomron, a Justice Ministry legal
team has recommended. It said that the international treaty
must be applied in a way that maintains Israel's right to
assume security responsibility in those areas.
The team was appointed by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to
examine the implications of the International Court of
Justice's July 9 ruling on the separation fence.
Previous Israeli governments have always maintained that
since there was no recognized sovereign in these areas before
1967, they are not "occupied territory" as defined in the
Israel has always applied the convention's humanitarian
provisions de facto, stressing that this does not
constitute formal acceptance of the convention's
applicability. Israel rejects the claim that the settlements
violate the convention, which forbids the transfer of
civilians into occupied territory.
The Palestinians and their international supporters oppose
Israel's position, and have sponsored numerous UN resolutions
stating that the treaty does apply to the territories, and is
binding on Israel. The International Court of Justice
accepted this position in its advisory opinion on the fence.
The Justice Ministry team argued that Israeli officials
should refrain from attacking the court, and that the fence's
route must demonstrate "sensitivity" to the court's ruling.
It also said that Israel should reconsider the way in which
the army and other Israeli agencies operate in the
territories. The ruling could serve as a basis for anti-
Israel activity in international forums, and could even lead
to sanctions, it warned.
The team recommended building the fence as close as possible
to the Green Line, taking into account security needs and the
need to minimize harm to Palestinians.
The UN General Assembly adopted the opinion of the ICJ on
July 20, and is expected to discuss the issue again in
September when the Palestinians are likely to request
sanctions against Israel. Should the Americans, as expected,
veto this idea in the Security Council, the Palestinians will
ask the General Assembly to recommend that member states