Israel’s infuriating habit continues of undermining prospects for a peace agreement by insisting on plans to build new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Read the Haaretz editorial of April 1, “Fooling Ourselves,” for a good pronouncement on the absurdity of this course. For another, read the following from J. Zel Lurie’s column scheduled for publication in the Jewish Journal of South Florida:
As Secretary of State Condi Rice left Jerusalem for Amman on March 31 to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah, Israeli Prime minister Ehud Olmert found it fitting to announce that he had approved the contraction of 800 additional housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit.
Thus he met the demand of Shas, which will stay in the Olmert/Barak coalition so long as the government ignores its commitment to freeze settlement construction and evacuate some settlement outposts. At the same time, the Jerusalem municipality, which has a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) mayor, approved the construction of 500 additional housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev. To the Palestinians who hope to make East Jerusalem their capital, this is also a violation of the commitment to freeze construction.
At her meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak the day before, Mr. Barak promised to evacuate 50 checkpoints between the Palestinian cities of Nablus, Tulkarm and Jenin, Their elimination would considerably ease Palestinian traffic if the promises are kept.
The Israeli army’s record on keeping promises is not good. Six months ago, the government promised to evacuate 24 checkpoints. Machsom Watch, a group of Jewish women that monitors the checkpoints, looked for evacuations but never found them.
Back in November 2005, after an all-night session in Jerusalem, Dr. Rice secured Israel’s agreement to work with the United States on eliminating checkpoints and settlements. These complex negotiations were followed by nothing of consequence.
Now, on her 14th trip to the Middle East since the beginning of 2007, Dr. Rice told reporters at a news briefing: “We haven’t been monitoring and verifying during the last two years. We want to be much more systematic about what is being promised and what is being done than we have been able to be in the past.”
I wonder who stopped her. What prevented her from monitoring Israel’s promises?
Four years ago, in April 2004, Dov Wineglass, a special emissary of the Israel government, went to Washington to see Dr. Rice about Israel’s actions on the West Bank. According to a letter he wrote to Dr. Rice after the meeting, the American ambassador to Israel would receive within 30 days a map defining the boundaries of all the settlements. On checkpoints, Wineglass promised that the Israel Army would present to the American ambassador to Israel a list of the checkpoints and roadblocks. Wineglass wrote “a list of barriers already removed and a timetable for further removals will be included.”
No lists were ever received by the American ambassador. No map showing the boundaries of the settlements was produced. Not within 40 days or four years. No barriers were ever removed. But, according to the Israel press, Dr. Rice had agreed to all of Israel’s demands.
According to the United Nations observer in Jerusalem, 30 barriers have been added since the Annapolis meeting last fall.
Mark Regev, the Israeli spokesman, told the press: “Any taking down of checkpoints is a calculated risk.” It balances Israel’s need for security with the Palestinian need to travel from place to place. It should be stressed that none of the checkpoints under discussion are in the vicinity of Israel’s frontier.
On the day Dr. Rice traveled to Jordan, March 31, Peace Now issued a Settlement Watch report covering the period August 2007 to March 2008. The report stated that not a single building project in the West Bank had been frozen. Some construction was going on in over a hundred settlements in this period.
What did Dr. Rice do in Amman? She persuaded Mahmoud Abbas to resume talks with Ehud Olmert despite Israel’s violations of its promises to remove some settlements and freeze construction in all of them.
While Dr. Rice was wielding the power of the weakening dollar in Jerusalem and Amman, the Arab League was holding its annual songfest a few miles north in Damascus. The meeting was boycotted by the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia and the president of Egypt to show their displeasure with Syria’s actions in Lebanon, which remains without a president.
Muamar Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator, poured his contempt on the missing Arab heads of state. He asked: “How can we accept that a foreign power comes to topple an Arab leader while we stand watching.” He pointed out that Saddam Hussein was once an ally of the United States.
While the Arab leaders were bickering over Lebanon in Damascus and Dr. Rice was pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement in Jerusalem and Amman, the Israeli army was doing its own thing in the West Bank. The army’s civil administration handed out scores of demolition orders to Palestinian farmers in the valley north of Hebron. According to the Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron, the Arab farmers are being squeezed between two Jewish settlements that covet their fertile land.
And south of Hebron, the CPT reports that the fanatical residents of the illegal settlement of Havat Ma’on continue to harass the shepherds grazing their flocks. Shabbat is their favorite day for action against their Palestinian neighbors.
On Saturday, March 29, the CPT reports that 20 Israeli settlers from the illegal outpost Havat Ma’on invaded the Palestinian village of At-Tawani. They harassed the residents, scared the children and two of them “mooned” the Palestinians and the internationals, displaying their buttocks. This was a typical weekend in Israel and Palestine.