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Peace Now & APN: Freeze construction in the “settlement blocs,” too

Belated praise for Top Five Bogus Excuses for Opposing a Settlement Freeze, a detailed refutation of several canards by the estimable Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now and Hagit Ofran, who run’s Peace Now’s Settlements Watch progam.

All five responses to these “excuses” are worth perusing, but I found one of them to be particularly instructive because it relies on cold, hard, geographical facts about the true nature of the so-called “settlement blocs.” Well-meaning people in Israel’s center-left and their supporters here consider those “blocs” to be sancrosanct. They are the “good settlements,” untouchable in any future agreement and therefore exempt from restrictions that these people agree should be imposed on the “bad settlements.” But what, precisely, are these settlement blocs you’ve been reading about all of these years? Your guess is as good as mine. See below:

Bogus excuse #2 – “Settlement “Blocs”: “Everyone knows that settlement blocs are going to be part of Israel under any future agreement. Since this is the case, it makes no sense to demand that construction in these areas stop.”

Fact: “Settlement bloc” is an informal term, having no legal definition or standing, either under Israeli or international law. It generally refers to areas where settlements have been established in relatively close proximity to one another and relatively close (as a cluster) to the Green Line. In the current political context, the term has become shorthand for clusters of settlements that likely will, according to some Israelis, remain part of Israel under any future peace agreement.

Throughout the history of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Israel has left the blocs undefined, enabling their informal borders to grow year after year, as construction has systematically thickened and expanded them to include settlements and land located at a greater distance from their centers. The blocs and the settlements they contain are not recognized by the Palestinians or the international community as having any special status compared to other settlements, either now or in terms of a future peace agreement. Moreover, many of these “blocs” include what even Israel recognizes to be private Palestinian land.

At present, the best indication of Israel’s definition of the “blocs” is the route of the security barrier – that is, Israelis assume that what is on the Israeli side of the barrier is part of the “blocs,” and what is on the Palestinian side of the barrier is not. However, this definition ignores the fact that the route of the barrier has been gerrymandered to include as many settlements as possible and to encompass huge areas of adjacent land. As a result, while the built-up area of the settlements on the “Israeli” side of the barrier is approximately 7,300 acres, the total area of West Bank land that is de facto annexed by the barrier is approximately 148,000 acres, or around 20 times the size of the built-up area of the settlements. Thus, while many may wish to portray these “blocs” as something that is non-controversial, the situation on the ground tells a very different story. For example:

–In the case of the “Ma’ale Adumim bloc” (east of Jerusalem), the barrier route takes up land many times the size of Ma’ale Adumim, including the area of the planned mega-settlement of E1, a settlement whose construction successive US administrations have recognized as potentially fatal to the two-state solution.

–In the case of the “Givat Ze’ev bloc” (north of Jerusalem), the barrier route extends so far north of the existing settlement that if construction were permitted to fill the bloc, the settlement could expand at least 5 times in size and reach the very edge of Ramallah – bearing in mind that construction is now underway in this “bloc” for a new ultra-Orthodox settlement (whose residents have an average of 7 children).

–In the case of the “Etzion bloc” (south of Jerusalem), the route of the barrier not only captures a huge amount of territory that is not part of the built-up area of the settlements, but it extends deep into the West Bank to include the settlement of Efrat, and in doing so severs Bethlehem completely from the southern West Bank (leaving the city of Bethlehem an isolated enclave between the southern Jerusalem barrier and the Gush Etzion bloc).

–Further north, in the case of the “Ariel bloc” and “Qedumim bloc,” these blocs are actually narrow fingers reaching deep inside the West Bank – with the settlement of Ariel, for example, located almost exactly halfway between the Green Line and the Jordan River. Regardless of ideology, it is difficult to imagine a viable peace agreement that leaves these areas under Israeli control.

Based on past negotiations, including the unofficial Geneva Initiative process, it seems likely that Palestinians will be willing to accept a peace agreement under which Israel retains control of some settlements, but only in return for (a) the evacuation of all other settlements and (b) land swaps, equal in size and quality, to compensate for the land kept by Israel. This is an important principle that, in the context of serious peace negotiations, could play a key role in the achievement of a viable final status agreement. However, it is disingenuous to cherry-pick this principle in order to justify new settlement construction outside the context of such negotiations and absent a peace agreement.

12 thoughts on “Peace Now & APN: Freeze construction in the “settlement blocs,” too

  1. Yoram Ettinger, former Israeli Foreign Ministry official was quoted in the Makor Rishon newspaper as saying that the essential message of Obama towards Israel and the Arab/Muslim world is as follows:
    (1) The “special relationship” between Israel and the US that Presidents since the Six-Day War have mentioned no longer exists.
    (2) The creation of the state of Israel is an historical accident (i.e. Israel is essentially an artificial state)
    (3) The US is committed to Israeli security, but not because it is in America’s interest to be so, but rather because of internal political pressure (i.e. the Jewish lobby)
    (4) The US recognizes that it is “unfair” that Israel has nuclear weapons but the Iranians and the Arabs don’t.

    Let’s see how this goes down with everyone.

  2. That is an absurd message from an absurd source. Yoram Ettinger? Thanks for citing such a reliable interpreter of American policy and politics. He was one of the Likud operatives in DC who tried to sabotage Peres during the disunity governments of the late 1980s, stupidly assured Shamir that Israel would get Congressional backing if it fought GHW Bush on the loan guarantees, and then worked in Washington to sabotage PM Rabin.

  3. I was interested to see how the British Conservative Party (which I’m not that familiar with)–came out strong in its support of Israel.

    And advised Israel, as a friend, to freeze the settlements.

  4. Yakov,
    The world has changed. Its improved. The basis of US relationship is now actual humane friendship, rather than calculating opportunism.

    Thats an improvement, even if a different formula than the past.

  5. Teddy, your usual “progressive”-style ad-homimen attack on Ettinger simply shows how right he has been. Most of the people in the Foreign Minstry were either fools who believed all the nonsense spewed out by the Oslo-gang (recall Peres’ infamous quote: “Arafat is a changed man”) or were bought off, Ettinger fought the good fight against this disaster that brought some many wars, death and destruction on both Israel and the Palestinians.
    That is why I quoted him.

    Richard-so seem to think the new American policy of grovelling to the various Arab/Muslim despots in place of a traditional friendship with Israel and Zionism that LONG predates the “Jewish lobby” or even a significant Jewish population in the US (back to 1840 or so) is “humane friendship” and not “calculating opportunism”?
    Obama, king of the misleading speech (since when is the US “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world”?) points out that “the first country to recognize the US was Morocco” , while conveniently leaving out the fact that the FIRST war the US fought was against the Arabs (i.e. the Barbary Pirates)…you know the old Marine Hymn “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”. I see he is learning to rewrite history and adjust reality just like his Arab friends (“I never heard in my years of sitting in Rev Wright’s church any attacks on Israel or the US”, or “I didn’t know Bill Ayres was a terrorist”).

  6. I think Obama speaks eloquently for the US interests, and respects Israel’s interests to the point that there are red lines of defending against actual physical and existential threats.

    I think you speak insultingly of my president, when you use the term “groveling”.

    I think the opposite is the case, that he speaks content and in ways that shift all of the relationships from trivialization to respect (a more relevant polarity than “groveling vs offending” as the only options).

    I get that you think of yourself and of Israel as unconditionally and permanently the enemy of any Arab state or people. I think it ill-serves Israel to adopt that attitude.

    The relevant perspective for peace is a conditional perspective. “I will be your friend IF …”, similar to God’s promise of “I will give you the rain in its time, IF…”

    If’s can be negotiated.

    Your unconditional rejection is a done deal, a conclusion before an observation.

    The world has changed. Israel has treaties with two prominent and relatively stable Arab states (Egypt and Jordan). The entire Arab world has offered to normalize relations with Israel if it adopts what seem to me to be reasonable conditions.

    I saw Netanyahu on Meet the Press today. He seems like a reasonable man. His points sound acceptable. Of course, David Gregory didn’t ask him about the settlements, or boundaries, or title claims, or Israeli relaxation of arms, or the Arab League proposal.

  7. Y-BD,

    Thanks for reminding us of the halcyon days before the Oslo process, when there was an intifidah, and Israel did not have peace with Jordan, and much of the world’s economy was closed to its exports, and there were fruitless attempts to negotiate with Palestinian village leaders who had no power and…I could go on. On what do you base your certainty that life in Israel would have been better if that process hadn’t been attempted?

  8. Teddy-
    Israel did have peace with Jordan before Oslo. It was a de-facto peace, the Jordanians kept the border quiet since the suppression of Arafat’s Palestinian terror mini-state in Jordan in 1967.
    Also today the Syrian-Israeli frontier on the Golan Heights is quiet and has been since 1974 WITHOUT a peace agreement.

    With Oslo, Arafat and his terrorist gangs were turned loose in the Palestinian territories, allowing them to brainwash the population for anti-Israel violence and especially suicide bombings. This is going on until today. As a result something like 1500 Israelis were murdered and THOUSANDS wounded. Thus, we see signing “peace agreements” with the Palestinians INCREASED the violence. Don’t forget that Israel got its big opening in the world BEFORE Oslo, when it opened diplomatic relations with China, India, Russia and the rest of the former Communist bloc. I am for peace no less than you are but I don’t view signing a meaningless scrap of paper regardless of the consequences as being of value if it doens’t improve the security situation. Do you remember when Peres and Rabin were talking about “victims of peace”? That is outrageous and immoral. Peace will only be achieved incrementally. But you don’t get Nobel Prizes for that and those two men almost destroyed Israel in their quest for personal acclaim.

  9. If you are so FOR peace, then ACT to make that happen, in the comprehensive combination of actions that result in sincere trust.

    A component of that is stopping all settlement construction, and confidently announcing the sincere intention to ultimately acknowledge a healthy Palestine, as a peer state to Israel.

  10. Ya’akov,

    The peace negotiations and Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland also resulted in a temporary increase in terrorism as dissident republican organizations cooperated with one another in an attempt to sabotage the agreement. Fortunately they lacked popular support and British and Irish intelligence was effective in infiltrating them. Their decision to set up a major bomb in a town with an ethnically-mixed population also helped to do them in.

    Unfortunately, Israel was never as efficient at infiltrating Palestinian terror groups as the British and Irish were, nor as effective as keeping violence limited by electronic surveillance that produced actionable intelligence.

    But Peres was right in essence–the prospect of peace will produce more violence by the enemies of peace than a stalemate. That includes by the Goldsteins and Amirs.

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