Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinians Undergo Turbulent Month in Occupied Territories

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinians Undergo Turbulent Month in Occupied Territories

Article excerpt

Palestinians Undergo Turbulent Month in Occupied Territories

August was a particularly cruel month for the two million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza as they observed a dramatic increase in land confiscations for Jewish settlement expansion, house demolitions, and an alarming decline in respect for human rights by Palestinian as well as Israeli security forces.

Setbacks and violations of the peace accord have begun to occur at such a breakneck pace that many Palestinians are convinced that it is all over but the shouting.

"It is all happening so fast and the damage is irreparable, not just to the peace process but to those affected by the new government's total arrogance and disregard for the agreement signed with the Palestinians," said Ziad Abu Ziad, Palestinian Council member from East Jerusalem.

What many Palestinians will recall as an especially unpleasant month began on Aug. 2, when the cabinet of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu voted to repeal a freeze on Jewish settlement expansion undertaken by the previous Labor government.

The freeze, initially a response to financial pressure from the U.S., which views Jewish settlements as an obstacle to peace, was in reality a slow-down from the rapid building that took place under the previous Labor government from the rapid building that had taken place earlier, when settlements grew by 40 percent and 3,741 acres of Palestinian land were confiscated over a three-year period.

It is estimated that under the peace deal the 144,000 Jewish settlers will live on some 3,850 square kilometers of West Bank land -- a ratio of approximately 1,000 settlers per 27 sq. kilometers -- while the 1.1 million native Palestinians will live on 1,950 sq. kilometers at a ratio of 1,000 people per 1.7 sq. kilometers.

"The decision to re-energize the settlement drive in the occupied territories, along with the inequitable division of land, clarifies Israel's intention to maintain permanent control over all of the West Bank," states a report issued by the East Jerusalem-based Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAWE), which believes the decision to lift the freeze on settlement building is, in effect, the Likud government's announcement of its intentions to end the current peace process.

Seeming to support that assumption, the current government coalition's guidelines clearly state its intentions regarding settlement expansion: "Settlement in the Negev, the Galilee, the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley, and in Judea, Samaria [the West Bank] and Gaza is of national importance to Israel's defense and an expression of Zionist fulfillment. The government will alter the settlement policy, act to consolidate and develop the settlement enterprise in these areas, and allocate the resources necessary for this."

The guidelines, recently approved by all of the constituent parties represented in Netanyahu's cabinet, include the government's intention to reinforce Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people; increase Jewish immigration while opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state and the right to return of the Arab population to any part of Israel west of the Jordan River; and retain sovereignty over the Golan Heights as essential to Israel's water sources.

Most Palestinians regard the guidelines as a direct repudiation of the peace agreement, now three years old.

The Israeli government's publication of the guidelines, and its repeal of the settlement-building freeze, while simultaneously insisting publicly that peace with the Palestinians is at hand, is in keeping with the Likud's historical approach to the Palestinian problem -- drag out negotiations for years on end while building Jewish settlements as steadily and quickly as possible.

Consistent with this policy, the Likud-led government has wasted no time issuing building permits for settlement construction and expansion. …

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