Archive for ‘settlements’

September 28, 2011

Evaluating Thomas Friedman on Israeli Settler Violence

Over at Mideast Matrix, I argue that Thomas Friedman downplayed settler violence in his column yesterday.

September 7, 2011

Incentives to settle the West Bank

I just came across this 2010 article by Rachel Shabi (Guardian) that provides excellent details on how Israel has subsidized the settlement of the West Bank. Housing prices are much lower and the Israeli government has used grants, better mortgages, tax advantages, and other incentives to entice people to live across the Green Line in the occupied territories. In the article, Danny Rubinstein puts it succinctly: “a bribe on a national scale.”

I regularly make this argument as well, that Israeli settlers are not all driven by nationalist, ideological, and religious motivations. Some move for economic and quality-of-life reasons. So I appreciate the reporting here.

That said, I think Rubinstein’s final point is one to think about:

The problem, as Rubinstein points out, is that what starts off as economics can eventually become ideological. “When you move [to the settlements],” he says, “you can’t say, ‘Well, I went there because I’m greedy.’ You change your political opinion.”

The article also provides food for thought about whether governments can set the parameters of public debate – and thus what is possible in terms of policy change – through how they frame an issue:

Israel has always played up the pain of dismantling the settlements. Yet as Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar writes in Lords Of The Land: The War For Israel’s Settlements In The Occupied Territories, the “elixir of life” for these settlements is their infrastructure: the electricity, water pipes and military forces that guard them. Remove these, “and this project collapses like a house of cards”. Today, Eldar describes Israel’s purported inability to do so as “a myth perpetrated by the government to make us believe that it is impossible”.

If the Israeli government says it cannot pull up stakes in the West Bank, does that make it so? Eldar thinks not, and I think he is correct to a point. The momentum would move in the other direction if Israel ended the incentives, the water, the protection etc. (or at least made the settlers bear the true cost of such items).

But would Israel really do that for the settlements where the bulk of the settlers live, that is 1) East Jerusalem and 2) other settlements close to the Green line? Moreover, probably some of the places where one can imagine a future Israeli government doing so are smaller, isolated settlements deep in the West Bank where ideology motivated the settlers and militancy would drive their response.

So I am sure Eldar is correct about a decent share of the settlements, but I doubt the *entire* project is a house of cards. Of course, as an opponent of the settlements, it is in Eldar’s interest to project an equal and opposite image to that created by the Netanyahu Government, Yesha Council (Hebrew), and others. Here to stay vs. house of cards.

July 27, 2011

Silwan and the “City of David”

I’m still been gathering my thoughts about the “City of David” museum and settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, but I thought I’d jot a few things down.  Elad, a private settler organization, runs the museum and inserts Jewish settlers into the area – a problematic combination to say the least. Elad runs the “City of David” based upon a private agreement with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, a governmental authority. Some Israeli MKs are trying to amend the National Parks Law to further aid Elad.

A settler house in Silwan

Silwan’s Palestinian youth regularly use rocks to challenge the settlement. (see this dramatic photo) When I visited recently, one could see the chain of private security guards deployed to ensure settlers were able to remain and deepen their foothold. More than 400,000 foreign and Israeli tourists now visit the site annually, including youth tours like the Young Judea group of North American teens walking through a day I was there; I had to wonder if the current political controversy was part of their curriculum.

Ir Amim is one Israeli non-governmental organization that has challenged this cozy relationship. The Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement has leafleted outside the site and asked The Lonely Planet to make mention of the controversy in the next edition of its Jerusalem tourist guide. Meanwhile, the archaeological digging is sparking fears of the tunnels among Palestinians; some of the fears relate to the al-Aqsa mosque.

I’ll have more thoughts on this soon.

July 25, 2011

Israeli Settlement Freeze

President Obama took a lot of heat for efforts to get Israel to freeze its settlement construction. One thing that struck me about the debate was the way in which it seemed disconnected from a long history of US efforts to get Israel to freeze settlement construction.

Never mind that in one of the most prominent (the most prominent?) books proposing a foreign policy agenda for the new president in 2008, Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President, Shibley Telhami and Steven A. Cook called on the new president to seek a  freeze: “Press Israel to freeze settlement construction.” (page 153)

What is more noteworthy is how many recent US presidents have also sought a freeze. Jimmy Carter thought he had one at Camp David in September 1978 (Carter thought Menachem Begin had agreed to a freeze for the duration of the autonomy negotiations, meaning at least a year. After the summit, Begin “clarified” that the freeze was for the duration of the talks on an Egypt-Israel treaty, scheduled to take three months. The disagreement was never settled. See Quandt, Peace Process, pages 202-03, 208 in the 2001 edition; or this interview with then US Amb. to Israel Sam Lewis.)

President Ronald Reagan included a call for a freeze in his plan (or here) of September 1, 1982:

The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transitional period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.

Note in the speech how Reagan framed the move as a confidence-building measure.

When then Secretary of State James Baker convened the Madrid conference in 1991, he mentioned U.S. opposition to settlements in his pre-conference letter to the Palestinians (Appendix M):

The United States has long believed that no party should take unilateral actions that seek to predetermine issues that can only be resolved through negotiations. In this regard the United States has opposed and will continue to oppose settlement activity in the territories occupied in 1967, which remains an obstacle to peace.

Later, both the Mitchell Report (April 30, 2001) and George W. Bush’s Roadmap for Peace (April 30, 2003) directly called on the Government of Israel to freeze settlements, including “natural growth.”

I am not claiming every US administration pursued a freeze with the same vigor. But the fact that so many administrations chose to highlight a freeze suggests that the Obama administration was very much in the U.S. mainstream.


July 13, 2011

East Jerusalem Today

(Helpful maps for this post)

Over the last 40 years, Israel has gradually tried to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The premise was to cement Israeli control of a huge, new definition of the area of Jerusalem* and end East Jerusalem’s role as the center of Palestinian life including medical, educational, commercial, and cultural activity. In the last few days I participated in three tours of the political and building map in East Jerusalem and the picture is depressing. (One was the free, four-hour Ir Amim tour.)

By limiting access to Jerusalem for Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank, Israel has gone a long way toward strangling East Jerusalem. In addition, tight building restrictions for Arabs, home demolitions, and disproportionately low municipal Israeli budget allocations weaken the fabric of Palestinian life in East Jerusalem. That Ramallah, once a large village, has grown into a small Palestinian city and the center of the Palestinian Authority is in part a testament to Israeli success in taking East Jerusalem off the table, and forcing Palestinian life to develop elsewhere.

The wall** Israel has built over the last decade strengthens the separation of Jerusalem from most other West Bank Palestinians. Metro Jerusalem institutions on the east of the wall, such as Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, are much harder to get to for Jerusalem Palestinians on the west side of the wall. Or, many West Bank Palestinians who used to reach hospitals like Augusta Victoria on Mount Scopus – now on the west side of the wall – face a longer and more difficult journey.

As the Israel state has created challenges for Palestinian life in East Jerusalem, it has, as is well known, settled Israeli Jews in East Jerusalem. Much of the settlement building in the late 1960s and 1970s started on the outskirts of East Jerusalem in places today known as French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, and Gilo.*** The state built huge apartment blocs, playgrounds, sidewalks, sewer lines, and the like and now each one houses (tens of) thousands of Israelis. In recent years, such building has included controversial projects like Har Homa (to the south; see picture at left) and Nof Zion astride Jabel al-Mukhaber.

But Israeli settlement organizations (such as Ateret Cohanim and EL-AD – more on EL-AD here), with the support of the Israeli state, have also been penetrating the inner core of Arab East Jerusalem. Isolated settlers now live in places like the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, Sheikh Jarrakh, on Mt. Olives, in Silwan, Ras al-Amud (see picture at right), and Abu Dis.

These settlers start to dramatically transform the locale. Many require a constant security presence, whether private security personnel or Israeli police. Israeli-Palestinian friction and fighting is a common result.

Now one could attempt to distinguish between the actions of individuals & private organizations and state actions, but the two are actually intimately linked. First, the state, in a bureaucratic and legal sense, comes in and defends these private efforts. It rarely backs the Palestinian opponents or reverses such settler efforts.

Second, such isolated settler homes act as a wedge. One home becomes two and then three (The City of David settlers in Silwan are a perfect example). At best from the settlers’ perspective, such isolated efforts could be used to justify huge new blocs, as, for example, Ateret Cohanim hope to do with its settlers in Abu Dis (the nearby open space is inviting).

The settler movement and the Israeli government are following the central recipe of the Zionist movement and the Israeli state: relentlessly establish facts on the ground and it will inform and shape the political and territorial reality. For example, Zionist land acquisition, building, and farming affected the lines of the UN partition plan (1947). In the last decade, some Palestinian negotiators, not to mention Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, seemed ready to accept the Israeli annexation of settlement blocks in a two-state solution, a testament to the way in which some Israeli building has affected the (hypothetical) political-territorial map.

Moreover, if the Clinton principle from 2000 (“The general principle is that Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli.”) is operational, the Israeli incentive is to build as fast as it can so as to create new areas that would have to be under Israeli sovereignty.

In short, determine the outcome with unilateral action; make it a fait accompli. On one tour a former Israeli official asked rhetorically how could you put a border on the 1949 Israel-Jordan armistice line (as we drove along the hotels and Israeli government institutions on Bar-Lev Blvd). That is exactly the implication of building and blurring and covering over the green line.

One common Israeli justification for settlers is that Jews once lived here in these Arab areas (e.g. Sheik Jarakh). But if that logic is taken seriously, it has deep and likely unwelcome implications: the Israeli people and government will have to take the Palestinian right of return seriously because it is based on exactly the same idea. In short, Palestinians were in Haifa or Ramla or wherever so they have a right to live there now.

One caveat: It is important not to over-state the Israeli impact either. Approximately 250,000 Palestinians are still in east Jerusalem. Though they are restricted, they exist as a counter-weight to designs to judaize even the core of East Jerusalem.

A two-state solution relies on a resolution of the Jerusalem question with the most common answer being a division of sovereignty. Yet the complexity of dividing East Jerusalem is stunning. The situation is a mess and would require dramatic changes in a negotiated resolution.

(Text and photos copyright Jeremy Pressman, 2011)

* Prior to 1967, Jordanian defined East Jerusalem was 2.5 square miles. After the 1967 war, Israel expanded the municipal boundaries to include 27 square miles. (Source: Wikipedia)

** While I understand that the term wall is debated, much of the barrier in Jerusalem is a concrete wall, often nine meters high.

*** Most Israelis call these areas neighborhoods of Jerusalem, not settlements, but they are built on what was territory controlled by Jordan.

June 21, 2011

Rejecting Land Swaps & More

In a recent rejection of the idea of land swaps as part of a two-state solution, Dore Gold (fmr Israeli Amb. to the US) posed the following question:

 Just because an idea was discussed in the past, does that make it part of the diplomatic agenda in the future, even if the idea was never part of any legally binding, signed agreements?

The question tells us a lot. Whether in terms of Israeli-Palestinian issues or Israeli-Syrian ones, the current Netanyahu government has resolutely refused to pick up where past Israeli governments left off. (As Sharon declined to do in 2001 just after the Taba talks, so Netanyahu has not done in the aftermath of Olmert and Annapolis of 2008.)

This refusal to pick up where talks left off should come as no surprise because to do so would lead the current Government of Israel (GOI) to adopt positions that it does not support. The GOI would rather squander past progress not out of spite but because it does not view those past talks as progress. It is not squandering anything but rather discarding ill-conceived concessions. So while Gold’s question embodies his view of land swaps, it also embodies the view of many other ideas, such as the idea of Palestinian sovereignty in Arab areas of East Jerusalem.

Moreover, Gold’s claim that swaps are not based on “any legally binding, signed agreements” is correct, but it is an argument of convenience. It implies that signed agreements would need to be accepted, something the Likud failed to do in the 1990s under Netanyahu. Yes, Netanyahu did eventually sign the Hebron protocol (1997) and Wye agreement (1998), but those were efforts to renegotiate what had already been agreed to by the Rabin government in Oslo I and II (1993, 1995).

Ideas that do not come to fruition can make a comeback; Gold’s protestations cannot prevent that somewhere in the future (though Israeli settlement expansion might make many of these compromise ideas moot). Oslo I, the Declaration of Principles, was itself based on past ideas for resolving Israeli-Palestinian matters that had not been implemented. Some Oslo ideas were drawn from the Framework for Middle East Peace in the Camp David Accords (1978).

Had Abbas and Olmert signed an agreement in 2008 that a final resolution would be based on land swaps, I would argue that the current GOI would nonetheless reject the idea because they think it is a bad idea. Here’s the real point of Gold’s query: Just because a previous Israeli government was willing to make a concession to the Arabs, it doesn’t mean the current government is willing (or even thinks it would ever be a good idea), signed document or no signed document.

June 17, 2011

The Four Two-State Solutions

Listening to Rob Malley on Fresh Air yesterday, I was reminded that 1) we tend to assume there is a two-state solution waiting on the shelf and 2) Malley disagrees and thinks maybe we are not as close as we believe: “If we all knew what the solution looked like, if everyone agreed, we probably would be there already.” (starts @ about  31:10)

Part of the problem is the use of the phrase “two-state solution” to imply full agreement when in fact it has multiple meanings. I think we have four versions of the two-state solution. (I am leaving aside the Old City for now in #1 and #2.) All of the versions assume Israel exists alongside Palestine.

1. The Abbas version

Palestinian sovereign capital in East Jerusalem. Palestine in Gaza and 97-98% of the West Bank. 1:1 swaps where Israel annexes at Latrun and narrow territorial version of settlement blocs (Efrat, Maale Adumim but not Ariel). Israel annexes Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem like East Talpiot and Pisgat Zeev. Symbolic right of return (5-25K total) but mostly financial compensation for refugees. Israel would close settlements in Palestine.

No Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley but perhaps international peacekeepers.

2. The Olmert Version

Palestinian sovereign capital in East Jerusalem. Palestine in Gaza and 92-95% of the West Bank. 1:1 swaps where Israel annexes at Latrun and more expansive territorial version of settlement blocs (Efrat, Maale Adumim, Ariel). Israel annexes Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem like East Talpiot and Pisgat Zeev including any post-Oslo areas (like Har Homa or Ramat Shlomo). Possibly symbolic right of return (5-25K) but mostly financial compensation for refugees. Israel probably would close settlements in Palestine.

In other words, very similar to #1 but slightly less for the Palestinians on each issue.

3. The Netanyahu Government

Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty. Possibly Palestine could have an office there or something short of sovereignty in an outlying suburb (linking back to something like Abu Dis in the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan of the 1990s). Palestinian religious access to holy sites in Jerusalem. Palestine in Gaza and, say, 50-60% of West Bank. Very constrained Palestinian sovereignty. No Palestinian right of return. International community could provide compensation for Palestinian refugees. Jewish refugees from Arab countries are also a live issue. Palestinians must recognize Israel as Jewish state. Israel might close a few isolated settlements but most would stay in place.

Israeli military presence in Jordan Valley and at Palestine’s border crossings.

4. A Hamas version

Borders along the exact 1967 lines including the entire West Bank (100%) and Gaza Strip. No land swaps or Israeli annexation. All of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, would be under Palestinian sovereignty. As many Palestinian refugees as like, or at least a very large number, would be allowed to return to Israel. Israel would close all settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

No Israeli or international military presence in the Jordan Valley.

The United States and EU are probably most comfortable with variants of #1 and #2. The Arab League (and its 2002 plan) is more with #1 (though Israeli critics tend to see it as #4).

So a lot of people mouth the words two-state solution. But they mean different, sometimes incompatible outcomes.