Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Settlers: Evacuate or Stay in the (New) Palestinian State

Let Them Stay In Palestine
By Akiva Eldar
In Haaretz (Israel), Opinion
August 25, 2008

The question Kadima voters must ask themselves on the way to the polls is not which candidate is most qualified to order the army chief of staff, at 3 A.M., to launch strikes against Iran. That decision will in any event be made at the White House. The question they face is tenfold more difficult and no less fateful: Which candidate is capable of instructing the chief of staff, at 3 P.M., to evacuate 110 settlements in the West Bank. After all, this was Kadima's major promise to its voters.

"No settlement will remain standing beyond the separation fence," Ehud Olmert promised in late March 2006, just after his party won the election. In an interview Olmert gave to Newsweek, he explained that the one threat Israel did not know how to deal with is the threat of losing its standing as a Jewish-democratic state.

On paper, specifically the ones on which he has detailed his stance on Israel's permanent borders, Olmert has come a long way, even if his position is still far from satisfactory, meeting the central goal he placed before his government.

The reality on the ground has changed for the good. Of the settlers, that is. It is no coincidence that media leaks regarding the far-reaching concessions Olmert is prepared to offer go in one of the settlers' ears and out the other. There is a good reason why a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who comes "to advance the diplomatic process," is met by the settlers with indifference.

When Israel Harel, a resident of the settlement of Ofra and an official with the Yesha Council of settlements, was asked for his reaction to the compromise deal whereby the Migron outpost would be relocated to a nearby settlement, he ticked off those who comprised the "triumvirate of evil": Peace Now; the European Union, which finances the group; and the High Court of Justice, which ruled against the settlers. He uttered not one word about the prime minister, who promised to evacuate the outposts. He did not mention the defense minister, who is responsible for maintaining law and order in the territories. Not one word of protest against the foreign minister, who does the absolute minimum in voicing criticism over Israel's ongoing violations of international commitments.

Benny Kashriel, the mayor of Ma'aleh Adumim, does in fact aim his wrath at the government. He is not satisfied with his city's total area of municipal jurisidiction (49 square kilometers, holding within them 32,000 residents), which is nearly identical to that of Tel Aviv (51 square kilometers, with 390,000 residents). Nor does he cease to complain, even after the government approved the inclusion of Ma'aleh Adumim "within the fence" (at a cost of NIS 800 million). Kashriel is unhappy that Olmert and Barak decided to annex just four square kilometers of land to his settlement (one quarter of the total land mass of Ramallah: 16 square kilometers encompassing 125,000 residents).

Kashriel is now demanding that the government add an additional four square kilometers to Ma'aleh Adumim, a risky venture that would place Israel Defense Forces soldiers in danger due to the topographical lowness of the fence route and the added expenditures that would be required just for this section of the fence (another NIS 100 million).

It is high time for Olmert and those who wish to succeed him to inform Harel and Kashriel that the rules of the game have changed. State lands in the territories have never been, de jure, sovereign property of the State of Israel. From now on, they are part of the state of Palestine, and for every dunam of land that is annexed in the West Bank, we will compensate with land from Israel proper. Today, it is still possible, perhaps, to persuade the Palestinians to exchange Ma'aleh Adumim for territories in the western Negev, or between Kiryat Gat and Hebron. Conversely, annexation of Ariel, a 14-square kilometer city with a population of 16,600 residents that sits 21 kilometers from the Green Line, is not conducive to a two-state solution.

The decisive test that awaits those looking to lead the country is their willingness to meet head-on a small minority that makes up less than 1 percent of the total population and for whom settlement is the be-all and end-all. At a seminar that took place last December in Tel Aviv, the head of the Alfei Menashe settlement council, Hesdai Eliezer, estimated that at least 70 percent of those living outside of "settlement blocs" would happily accept compensation (why not an immigrant absorption basket?) and come on aliya.

Those among the 115,000 settlers living outside "the blocs" (as delineated in the Geneva Initiative) who refuse to come home can remain in Palestine. If they want to come back, they will come back. If not, then they won't come back. The government will not "expel" any Jew and the IDF will not "uproot" what has been planted.

Yasser Arafat at one point agreed to grant Jewish settlers Palestinian citizenship, in addition to Israeli citizenship, and to provide them with full rights, including a fair apportionment of water and land resources. We only need to make sure that the Jewish minority in Palestine receives the same treatment accorded to the Arab minority in Israel. No more, no less. Or perhaps that would be too cruel. [Nobody like to be treated "second class" -JRK]