Israel's settlement 'natural growth' doublespeak
by MainStreet, Mon May 25, 2009 at 06:07:57 AM EDT
...or a plan to double the population of Israeli settlers in the West Bank without even trying.
When Bibi Netanyahu agreed to stop building new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and only permit "natural growth" to occur in his talks with President Obama, it was another clear indication that Israel intends to deceive the Obama administration about its long term goals. Even though Netanyahu agreed to remove some small "illegal" settlements, it was not understood that this concession amounted to nothing less than Israel's intent to double the population of Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories.
Writing last March, Jonathan Cook, a former British journalist living in Israel, wrote that the US might have delayed in salvaging a two-state solution on account of the settlement expansion being pursued by Israel under the euphemistic phrase, "natural growth."
JERUSALEM: Peace Now's revelation this week that Israel plans to build more than 70,000 homes in the West Bank is the latest in a string of troubling disclosures about settlement expansion. The plans were released with a transparent goal in mind: embarrassing the Israeli leadership as Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, arrived on her first visit to the region since her appointment.
According to the report, about 73,000 homes - most still on the drawing board but 9,000 of them already built - would double the current population of nearly 300,000 settlers in the West Bank (an additional 220,000 are in East Jerusalem).
Of those homes, nearly 20,000 would be built beyond the limits of the steel and concrete barrier Israel is erecting mostly inside the West Bank and which is widely assumed to be Israel's vision of its future political border with a Palestinian state. Another 3,000 would be built in a corridor of land known as E1 that would seal off Palestinian access to East Jerusalem, and about 6,000 are planned for East Jerusalem itself, the only viable capital for a future Palestinian state.
Mr Netanyahu...has suggested vaguely that he will restrict settlements to what is called "natural growth", or expansion to cope with the housing needs of the existing settler population.
British newspapers...reported that Israeli companies were selling cut-price homes in West Bank settlements at London property exhibitions.
...the 120 official settlements...rather than fighting for survival, are growing at a rate not seen since the Oslo process of the late 1990s.
Last week another human rights group, B'Tselem, revealed that Israel's military government in the West Bank, known misleadingly as the civil administration, was preparing the infrastructure, including water and sewage lines, to cope with thousands of new settler homes in the West Bank.
At the same time, reports surfaced that Israel had seized some 330 acres near Bethlehem, declaring it state land, to build a new settlement eventually expected to house 10,000 settlers.
Dror Etkes, who monitors settlement expansion for the human rights group Yesh Din, noted that Israel had arbitrarily declared some 30 per cent of the West Bank "state land", forbidding all Palestinian development on it. But the land theft does not end there.
Details of an internal defence ministry database of the settlements were leaked in January showing that officials had been allowing settlers to build on vast areas of land not confiscated by the state but ostensibly still in private Palestinian hands.
The consequences, as Mr Etkes pointed out, are that, whereas 97 per cent of Palestinian building permits were approved by Israel in 1972, early in the occupation, today that figure has fallen to just five per cent. There is no "natural growth" for Palestinians, even when it is on their own land.
(My thanks to Jonathan Cook for permission)
This malarkey, at least according to Cook's analysis, hides what is actually the most ambition expansion of settlements and population ever conceived by Israel, and could permanently derail any US-sponsored negotiation for a two state solution. The plan, it was also noted, was concocted while Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, the leaders of the centrist Kadima party, backed by Ehud Barak, who either sanctioned or turned a blind eye to much of this planned illegal construction. There is little doubt that the current "right wing" Likud government is fully supportive of this plan. Right wing or left wing seems almost irrelevant to Israel's long term colonial project to annex most of the Palestinian territories.
Although Barak recently ordered the dismantling of 22 of the roughly 100 outposts that are "illegal" under Israeli law (all settlements are illegal under international law), it is not difficult to grasp that such a gesture is trivial or only symbolic, given the vastness of the planned "natural growth" expansion. There is also subterfuge about such dismantlings. For example, as reported by Cook, in a deal with the settlers' political representatives of the large outpost, Migron near Ramallah, which was slated to be dismantled, the price paid for it was an agreement to build an even larger "legal" settlement for Migron's inhabitants nearby.
Therefore, when Netanyahu defied Obama on an Israeli settlement freeze, it was no small thing. It was everything.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rebuffed U.S. calls for a full settlement freeze in the occupied West Bank and vowed not to accept limits on building of Jewish enclaves within Jerusalem.
Netanyahu's defiant stance set the stage for a possible showdown with President Barack Obama, who, in talks with the new Israeli prime minister in Washington last week, pressed for a halt to all settlement activity, including natural growth, as called for under a long-stalled peace "road map."
"The demand for a total stop to building is not something that can be justified and I don't think that anyone here at this table accepts it," Netanyahu told his cabinet, referring to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, according to an official.
Netanyahu's comments reaffirmed a position he took in his bid for the premiership in a February election. By natural growth, Israel refers to construction within the boundaries of existing settlements to accommodate growing families.
"Within the boundaries of existing settlements" means doubling their population, which is why Jonathan Cook asks: is it too late for the two state solution? That is to say, if Israel gets away with this doublespeak concept of "natural growth."