Khaled Abu Aker
Khuloud Khayyat Dajani
Vol.7 Nos. 3 & 4 2000 / Settlements or Peace
Focus 1Settlements: A Geographic and Demographic Barrier to PeaceHow the number of settlers in the occupied territories jumped for about 4,000 in 1977 to some 200,000 today
by Khalil Tofakji
Since its 1967 occupation of the Palestinian territories, Israel’s policy has been underpinned by the strategy of creating facts through the construction and thickening of settlements on chosen sites, in order to build an independent Israeli entity within these territories. In light of the current political and military balance of power, the situation thus created makes it almost impossible to force Israel into a total withdrawal from the occupied territories, and into the implementation of all the international resolutions pertaining to settlements and their illegality. Should settlement activity proceed at its current pace, with Israel exploiting the staggering peace process, the geographic and demographic facts that will have been created as a result will form a major barrier to any peace process, blocking the way to a solution satisfactory to all parties.
Moshe Dayan, the former Israeli defense minister (1967-1973) who laid down the cornerstone of the settlement policy, spoke of the need of building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories because they safeguard Israel’s security more effectively than does the army. He noted that without the settlements, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would be unable to stay in the territories, as it would remain an alien force ruling over a foreign people.
Thus, the Labor Party inaugurated Israel’s settlement program in the wake of the 1967 war. Of primary importance then was, and remains, the question of where the settlements should be built, and not whether they indeed should or not be built. This is the logic that led the drive for settlement building. Hence, the Allon Plan was devised, which in its barest outline was based on the following points:
* The annexation of East Jerusalem and its surroundings to Israel — or what is called Greater Jerusalem;
* a 15-20 square kilometer security belt in the Jordan Valley (Ghor);
* this belt will comprise 20 percent of the West Bank.
This plan was followed in 1973 by that of Dayan, who favored a functional solution over a territorial one. Dayan, who had called for the creation of facts in the territories, drew a plan according to which Israelis would be allowed to settle in all the Palestinian areas, while the Palestinians would be given a limited measure of self-rule that would coincide with Israeli interests.
During the first decade of occupation, the Labor Party laid down the necessary infrastructure and set up the political institutions for the continuous expansion of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. At the end of the Labor Party rule, the number of Jewish settlers had reached 3,876 and that of settlements 20. When the Likud Party took power [in 1977], it imbued the policy with an ideological dimension.
Aiming for a Jewish Majority
Settlement activity also proceeded in and around Palestinian villages and towns. Ariel Sharon, then minister of agriculture, disclosed the “picture of Israel at the end of the 20th century.” His plan, calling for the settlement of two million Jews in the West Bank, rested on the development of Greater Jerusalem and the intensification of settlement building on the western ridges — west of Ramallah and Nablus. During the Likud era, Jewish settlement became the principle tool used by the Israeli authorities for bringing about demographic changes in the West Bank, aiming for a Jewish majority there. The new program, which reflected the Likud’s political and social concepts of Greater Israel, made it unequivocally clear that any contemplation of dividing the land between Israelis and Palestinians had to be quashed. Concurrently, the basis for Palestinian sovereignty over the land had to be eliminated through the fragmentation of territorial contiguity in the areas under Palestinian control.
To facilitate land requisition in the territories, the Israeli authorities began adopting the “state land” rationale, according to which land could be seized by being proclaimed state land. This made possible the wide-scale confiscation of Palestinian land for the construction of settlements. Additionally, factories and roads were also built, giving priority to areas earmarked for future settlement, and attractive concessions to industries established on these sites.
Bypass roads assured Jewish settlers a safe and unimpeded access to Israel and their workplaces inside the Green Line, while giving them the impression of living on “hills of gold” and not in the midst of a hostile Palestinian people. These roads also served the purpose of cutting off Palestinian villages from each other and turning them into easily controllable chess pieces. Thus, Military Order No. 50 pertaining to roads was promulgated in 1983 and was implemented after Oslo, leading to further land confiscation and to the growing isolation of these villages. The Palestinian areas were being gradually transformed into agglomerations encircled by settlements and bypass roads. In 1990, the Tochnit Ha-Kokhavim (Stars Plan) was initiated, leading to the emergence of a new line of settlements across the Green Line designed to obliterate the former borders.
This project has not ceased to expand, so much so that, today, the Modi’in group has come to comprise a bloc of over eight settlements, the largest of which is Kiryat Sefer with a population of over 13,000. This bloc will eventually become the largest city between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Additionally, the erection of more than 27,000 housing units is projected there, which means that the old Green Line and the no-man’s land in the Latrun area will be swallowed up through the creation of this geographic fact.
Gradually, Israel has started to concentrate on the thickening of settlements and population increase in areas far removed from the Green Line, reaching to within a mere eight kilometers west of Ramallah. This has given rise to another line of settlement bloc, whose population rose between 1999-2000 from 15,000 to approximately 26,000. This bloc (comprising the settlements of Dolev, Talmon, Nahliel and Halamish) has resulted in a demographic imbalance in the area in favor of the Israeli side. It further accords with Israel’s concept of Greater Jerusalem that is to be achieved through the expansion of the passage connecting the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan Valley through the building of settlements from Latrun to Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Etzion Bloc. The design is also to achieve territorial continuity by connecting all these settlements with highways and railway lines, creating thus a geographic and demographic fact that will always be an obstacle in the face of a lasting peace between the Palestinian people and Israel.
Time is enemy No. 1 to the settlers, so one notes the Settlement Council in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip working feverishly to expand settlement building. Thus, during prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s rule, there was a scramble to take possession of the hills as a basis for future settlement, heeding Sharon’s call to “occupy the hilltops.” The ink on the Wye River Memorandum had not dried yet when settler groups rushed to erect more than 44 new settlement sites. The number of settlers rose from 145,000 in 1996 to 193,000 in 1999 in the West Bank alone, excluding those in East Jerusalem since 1967.
Barak — Unprecedented Building
Then came the Barak government. Although Ehud Barak’s political agenda calls for the continuation of the peace process, facts on the ground present an entirely different and unprecedented picture. Nine thousand housing units were built in 1998, and 5,752 units and two new settlements were erected in 1999. In Jerusalem, housing units started to sprout everywhere within the city: Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa), Ras al-Amoud and, recently, the proposed project for the expansion of the Gilo settlement to the west of the city.
The Palestinians who have chosen peace as a strategic goal for the sake of their children’s future, wish to make a place for themselves among the international community and the civilized nations. They want to put behind them the wars and destruction that have marked the last 100 years and for which parents and children on both sides have paid with their blood. But on the other side they see the Israelis who, rather than seeking peace, are going out to create geographic and demographic facts that impede the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. And any sharing of the land between the two peoples is blocked, together with the prospect of their living in harmony and peaceful coexistence. Thus, as the settler population jumped from approximately 4,000 in 1977 to some 200,000 today, with a steadily growing demographic, geographic and political strength, the settlement project became a major obstacle to peace.
Table 1. Construction in Gaza Strip and West Bank Settlements
Table 2. Increase in Jewish settlers’ population during the last 20 years
(in thousand square meters)
|Under active construction||Building begun||Building completed||Under active construction ||Building begun||Building completed|
Source: The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics
|Year||Number of Settlers|