Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

What Delayed Implementation of the Oslo Agreement? Reaping the Whirlwind; the Price of Israeli Settlements

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

What Delayed Implementation of the Oslo Agreement? Reaping the Whirlwind; the Price of Israeli Settlements

Article excerpt

What Delayed Implementation of the Oslo Agreement? Reaping the Whirlwind; The Price of Israeli Settlements

By Rachelle Marshall

The Israeli settlers who threaten civil war if the Rabin government gives up an inch of occupied territory point to God's covenant with the Jews in the Old Testament to justify Israel's claim to the land. But far more relevant to their disruptive presence on the West Bank is the prophet Hosea's warning: "They have sown the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind." Israel may have to pay with continuing bloodshed for the more than 180 Jewish settlements that now spread over territory once inhabited almost exclusively by Palestinians.

The right-wing settlers' opposition to the interim agreement between Israel and the PLO appears to have little popular support. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has expressed only contempt for the protesters, calling them "ridiculous." The roadblocks and other demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv organized last summer by the settler movement Zu Arzenu ("This is Our Land") have aroused more annoyance than sympathy among Israelis. Nevertheless, pressure from the settlers undoubtedly has stiffened Israel's resistance to removing its troops from Hebron, where they guard a cluster of 400 ultra-religious Jews. Because PLO negotiators insisted that Israel must withdraw its troops from all major Arab towns before they would sign an agreement, the issue became a major obstacle to what Labor party officials call the "peace process."

Despite Rabin's professed opposition to their methods, the right-wing protesters may actually be serving the prime minister's purposes. The Oslo accords call for Israel and the Palestinians to reach agreement within three years on how authority over the occupied territories is to be apportioned. The Zu Arzenu insists that all publicly owned land that has been used by generations of Palestinians for common purposes such as agriculture and grazing remain permanently in Israel's hands. Rabin is less noisily pursuing the same goal. On the same day Israeli television showed the army removing Jewish squatters from the hilltop they had seized near one West Bank village, the government declared 920 acres of land belonging to another village, Beit Fajjer, to be state land--the first step toward confiscating it. The area Israel will take over contains stone quarries that have been the villagers' chief source of income for as long as anyone can remember, A few weeks earlier the government closed off 2,500 acres of farm and grazing land belonging to three villages near Hebron to provide a firing range for the army.

Israel also has seized thousands of acres of privately owned Arab land for "security purposes." A U.N. delegation that visited the West Bank and Gaza last June reported that Israel had confiscated over 17,500 acres since the signing of the Oslo agreement, and now controls about 1,500,000 acres or 73 percent of the occupied territories. The U.N. report warned of mounting tension between Israel and Palestinians because of the continuing confiscations.

The Zu Arzenu's goal is not only to expand the presence of Jews on the West Bank but also to preserve existing settlements. The wave of demonstrations this summer that included the creation of more than 30 "new settlements" was meant as a warning to the Israeli government that any attempt to reduce the number of settlements on the West Bank would be fiercely resisted. The Jewish residents of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, have vowed to shoot Israeli soldiers who try to force them to leave, and Knesset member Rehavam Ze'evi of the Molodet party has suggested that Zu Arzenu members fire back at police who try to break up their demonstrations. Professor Ehud Sprinzak of Hebrew University told the audience at a World Affairs Council meeting in San Francisco last September that even political assassination has become a possibility, because ultra-religious Jews regard Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres as traitors and consider any talk of giving back part of the West Bank to be "a rebellion against God. …

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