Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Peace Process: End of the Beginning or Beginning of the End? to Israeli Leaders, Permanent Occupation Comes before Peace

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Peace Process: End of the Beginning or Beginning of the End? to Israeli Leaders, Permanent Occupation Comes before Peace

Article excerpt

The Peace Process: End of the Beginning or Beginning of the End? To Israeli Leaders, Permanent Occupation Comes Before Peace

By Rachelle Marshall

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process that appeared to be limping along slowly for nearly a year and a half turns out to have been moving rapidly after all--but in the wrong direction. While Palestinian leaders thought they were negotiating an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli government was busy making that occupation irreversible.

When Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister in June 1992, and the Labor government replaced the hardline Likud leadership, approximately 120,000 Jewish settlers lived on the West Bank and some 4,000 in Gaza. At the time, Israel held title to 925,000 acres, or about 68 percent of the West Bank. Under Rabin the number of settlers has grown by 17 percent to 140,000. Between the signing of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 and mid-January of this year, Israel confiscated at least 27 square miles of Palestinian territory. According to the Land Research Center of the Arab Studies Society, the Labor government has been seizing land at an average rate of 1,500 acres a month, compared to the 900 acres a month taken while Likud was in power.

In fact, Israel is adding new Jewish housing in the West Bank so rapidly that the number of units under construction or planned grows almost weekly. In mid-December, for instance, the government confiscated 800 acres adjoining a settlement four miles inside the West Bank for 1,500 additional houses and ten hotels. At the same time, it announced the takeover of 5,000 acres for the expansion of settlements close to the Arab cities of Ramallah and Nablus. On Jan. 16 The New York Times reported that the government was planning 10,000 new apartments in and around East Jerusalem, which the United Nations considers part of the occupied territories despite Israel's illegal annexation in 1967. The next day the Wall Street Journal quoted an Israeli official as saying the government had decided to build 30,000 new homes on the West Bank instead of the 17,000 originally planned.

In the same week, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said another 450 acres on the West Bank would be taken for new highways that "will allow settlers to drive in relative safety around Arab towns." But as former Congressman Paul Findley wrote in the Jan./Feb. issue of the Washington Report, the main effect of the new roads will be to dismember Palestine and prevent it from becoming a cohesive nation. This process, Findley said, "simplifies enormously Israel's task of maintaining its subjugation of all two million Palestinians." A recent report by the Israeli organization Peace Now reaffirmed Findley's conclusion, saying that Israel planned to expand West Bank settlements with tens of thousands of new apartments and is taking over extensive tracts for nature preserves, quarries, and other uses. "The aim of the expansion," according to Peace Now, "is the creation of Jewish zones north and south of Jerusalem, leaving thousands of Palestinians in isolated enclaves."

Tightening Israel's Hold

Even The New York Times agrees that Israel is attempting to pre-empt peace negotiations by seizing as much land as possible before the future of the West Bank is discussed. On Jan. 3, Times correspondent Clyde Haberman pointed out that despite Rabin's promise to freeze settlement building, "In fact, he has permitted thousands of apartments to be built in the West Bank, conspicuously around Jerusalem, in an effort to tighten Israel's hold on those areas ahead of negotiations on the city's fate."

Rabin no longer bothers to deny that he is seeking to accomplish what Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Gur has called the achievement of "geographic fact," in order to predetermine the outcome of future negotiations. Although Rabin said, after he shook hands with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Washington, that "settlements were not established from any security point of view," he has since reversed himself and given in almost completely to right-wing pressure. …

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