JERUSALEM (IPS)–It’s clear that the new government will pursue a relentlessly right-wing agenda with peace far down on the list.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced on a visit to the sprawling, fortress-like settlement of Ma’ale Adumim that the open space between the settlement and Jerusalem would be filled with new Jewish construction.
The announcement illustrates the intent of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s new government to forestall the emergence of a Palestinian state in these occupied areas.
Any new construction in the occupied West Bank on top of the earlier settlements will probably end hopes of a negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
The plan for expansion means that the Israeli “facts on the ground” will be so extensive that only sustained international pressure may be able to dislodge them. Thus, Israel could be heading the way of South Africa under apartheid, a pariah state shunned by most of the world.
International investment has tapered off visibly since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s re-election, top businessmen say. It had held up moderately well during the first years of the intifada.
Take a quick look at the land situation. Israel borders the Mediterranean to the West. The eastern boundary follows the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley, from north to south. A part of this eastern border is actually the Palestinian West Bank, which is the west bank of the Jordan river. This is the territory Israel occupied in The Six-Day War of 1967.
Gaza, also occupied in 1967, is separated from the West Bank by Israel proper. It lies on the Mediterranean in the south, with Egypt on its southern border.
Jerusalem juts into the West Bank and belongs partly to Israel proper. East Jerusalem is Palestinian (Jordanian before 1967) but is now annexed by Israel. New construction is continuing in and around Jerusalem in what Israel claims to be its own land but is, in fact, occupied territory.
The building and expansion of what are usually called “settlements” takes place in parts of the West Bank on territory that is not annexed but which Israel often calls “disputed” rather than occupied.
The significance of the announcement over Ma’ale Adumim is the grand plan behind it. The settlement juts into the West Bank just a few miles from Jerusalem. It had been earmarked as one of several settlements that Israel would retain even under a peace plan proposed by President Clinton in 2000.
Such blocs are now to be expanded. More roads are being blasted through the hills to connect the settlements with Israel and with each other. More Palestinian land is being expropriated. Individual settlements are creating “buffer zones” around them in the name of security, and this is eating further into Palestinian land.
The expansion of settlements and the so-called bypass roads accompany two other developments: the construction of a “separation wall” between Israel and the occupied territories, and the dismantling of Palestinian institutions and continued military attacks on Palestinian targets and leaders.
Mr. Sharon had seemed reluctant a year ago to approve “security separation” in the form of a wall, or at places a fence, between pre-1967 Israel and the occupied territories. It was seen in right-wing circles as admission of a border between the two that could lead to a political separation in the future. The wall would also leave many settlements “on the wrong side”.
The government has now turned the wall into an instrument of right-wing policy. Most of a new separation barrier will come up well inside the occupied territories, incorporating large tracts of land and several settlements on the “Israeli” side.
Some of the land has been expropriated outright. Other stretches will, in theory, remain open to farming by Palestinians. Considering the continuing ban on Palestinians entering Israel, most Palestinians consider these areas lost as well.
The Yesha Council of Jewish settlers is campaigning to get more settlements included on the Israeli side of the wall. It has had several successes in the past. But the inclusion of new settlements would be a zigzagging fence or wall that would serve Israel’s security interest less and less, but the right-wing political agenda more and more.
Israeli policy has also pursued destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and the dismantling of Palestinian institutions. Palestinian security services have been hit by both. Their equipment, offices, barracks, vehicles, prisons and weapons have been destroyed or impounded. The Israelis have made Palestinian security useless even where it has been working to help the Israelis.
In fact, Palestinians have brought much of this on themselves with suicide attacks and other actions aimed at soldiers and civilians. On the other hand, Palestinian political institutions have been prevented from functioning, their leaders cannot meet, educational services are being eroded, and economically the territories have been ground into the dust.