Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made headlines by bravely saying what most people already know to be true, and what Olmert himself has spent almost his entire political career denying — that Israel must withdraw from nearly all of the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem to attain peace with the Palestinians.
Today, Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg — who authored an excellent history of Israel’s settlement enterprise — has an op-ed in the Washington Post describing the intractable situation Israel has created for itself through years of settlement building:
Nearly a thousand housing units are being built in Maale Adumim, according to Peace Now’s Settlement Watch project. At Givat Zeev, another of the settlements ringing Jerusalem, a 750-unit project was approved this year. The government has asked for bids on building nearly 350 homes in Beitar Illit, also near Jerusalem. Meanwhile, hundreds of homes have been added at settlements deep in the West Bank, with the government’s acquiescence if not approval.
All this fits a historical pattern: Diplomatic initiatives accelerate settlement building in occupied territory. When the peace effort fades away, the red-roofed houses remain as a monument.[...]
Since Annapolis, hard-line settlers have continued building, hoping to block any pullback. The government, meanwhile, is building in the so-called settlement blocs — settlements that it insists Israel must keep under any agreement. As in the past, it is writing its negotiating position in concrete on the hills.
Meanwhile, last week the New York Times reported on the increasing violence by Jewish settlers in the occupied territories:
There have been bouts of settler violence for years, notably during the transfer of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005. Now, though, the militants seem to have spawned a broader, more defined strategy of resistance designed to intimidate the state.
This aggressive doctrine, according to Akiva HaCohen, 24, who is considered to be one of its architects, calls on settlers and their supporters to respond “whenever, wherever and however” they wish to any attempt by the Israeli Army or the police to lay a finger on property in illegally built outposts scheduled by the government for removal.[...]
Besides exacting a price for army and police actions, the policy also encourages settlers to avenge Palestinian acts of violence by taking the law into their own hands — an approach that has the potential to set the tinderbox of the West Bank ablaze.
Hard-core right-wing settlers have responded to limited army operations in recent weeks by blocking roads, rioting spontaneously, throwing stones at Palestinian vehicles and burning Palestinian orchards and fields all over the West Bank, a territory that Israel has occupied since 1967.
For Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, settler terrorism is simply a fact of life. Lawless rampages like the one in Asira al-Qibliya a few weeks ago — which Olmert called a “pogrom” — make news, but the less spectacular daily acts of harassment, intimidation, vandalism and violence rarely do.
The Israeli organization B’Tselem, which monitors human rights violations in the occupied territories, reports that “when Palestinians attack Israelis, the authorities invoke all means at their disposal — including some that are incompatible with international law and constitute gross violations of human rights — to arrest the suspects and bring them to trial. Defendants convicted by military courts can expect harsh sentences.”
In contrast, when Israeli civilians attack Palestinians, the Israeli authorities employ an undeclared policy of leniency and compromise toward the perpetrators.
Israeli politicians of both the right and left have effectively cultivated and supported this extremist constituency for years, using a series of administrative measures to seize Palestinian land for more settlements, and failing to enforce Israeli law against settlers who openly exhort and carry out acts of violence against Palestinians.
More scandalously, these activities are supported by many prominent conservative Americans. Back in November, I reported a story on a New York fundraiser for the illegal settlement in Hebron, where 500 to 600 settlers live in the center of the city — guarded by 4,000 Israeli troops — among nearly 200,000 Palestinians.
The convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff was a big supporter of illegal settlements. One of his bribery scams was to direct his Native American clients to contribute to one of his “worthy” charities, the Capital Athletic Foundation, which was supposed to help inner city youth. Abramoff told them the donation also “had a side benefit: It was a favored cause of Rep. Tom DeLay.”
The money was actually going to buy weapons and gear for settler militias in the West Bank. Among the expenditures: “purchases of camouflage suits, sniper scopes, night-vision binoculars, a thermal imager and other material described in foundation records as ‘security’ equipment.”
As you might imagine, Abramoff’s Native American clients were less than thrilled to find out that they were helping to underwrite the oppression and dispossession of another indigenous people.
Another American underwriter of Israeli extremism is Sheldon Adelson, the major funder behind Freedom’s Watch. A vocal opponent of a two-state solution, Adelson is also a big donor to One Jerusalem, an organization which opposes the shared sovereignty of the Holy City.
Unfortunately, the reality of American politics is that there is absolutely no political cost for taking these sorts of extremist and deeply provocative positions, positions which have had demonstrably disastrous consequences for U.S. interests, for Israel’s security, to say nothing of Palestinian life, liberty, and dignity.
For example, traveling in Israel this past August, former governor, presidential hopeful, and radical cleric Mike Huckabee denied a Palestinian claim to the land, and effectively endorsed population transfer as a solution to the conflict. “The two-state solution is no solution, but will cause only problems,” Huckabee said. “The Palestinians can create their homeland in many other places in the Middle East, outside Israel.”
Remember the outrage that greeted that statement? Of course you don’t. There was none. On the other hand, when Jimmy Carter had the bad form to suggest that a system of laws which privileges one ethnic group over another is actually a lot like apartheid, all kinds of people were lining up to go on TV and call him a hater. Go figure.