Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Elul 5764 - August 25, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Did Washington Shift on Settlements?
by M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 US approach.

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 stay.

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 next year.

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 Likud.

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 party.

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 security needs.

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 Green Line.

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 convention.

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 impose sanctions.


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