The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, April 26, 2002  


An editorial published in today's New York Times, "Israel's Historic Miscalculation," bears some thought.

Israeli military officials, concerned about the national-security implications of some Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, recently suggested dismantling a dozen of them. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon instantly dismissed the suggestion, saying there will be no discussion of removing even a single settlement from the occupied territories as long as he remains in office.

"It is hard to imagine a more dispiriting statement for those hoping for a negotiated land-for-peace end to hostilities in the Middle East. If Mr. Sharon sticks to this view he will leave little hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians," the editors write.

"Just as terror is the greatest Palestinian threat to Middle East peace, so are settlements on territory captured in the 1967 war the greatest Israeli obstacle to peace," the editors add. "They deprive the Palestinians of prime land and water, break up Palestinian geographic continuity, are hard to defend against Palestinian attack and complicate the establishment of a clear, secure Israeli border."

The Times editors correctly point out that the settlements dropped off the radar screen of American foreign policy during the last 10 years. They add that since the initiation of the Oslo peace talks in 1993, the population of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza has nearly doubled, reaching 200,000, a figure that doesn't include the 200,000 Israelis who moved into Arab East Jerusalem. (In an interesting offhanded comment, the Times editors write: "Many Israeli maps stopped demarcating the former border" as the settlements grew in size and scope. We wonder why this fact has received so little attention when commentators so often tell us that Israel doesn't appear on Arab maps of the region.)

"This is an immense problem," the editors say.

Indeed. And it is a problem, the Times reminds us, that was the result of policies pursued by Sharon during his tenure as minister of housing in the 1990s. Government subsidies aided development of the settlements, which began to appear more like suburban towns than desert outposts. Astonishingly, since Sharon was elected prime minister a year ago, 35 new settlements have been established. Reports in American and Israeli newspapers show that building continues today, Sharon having apparently not drawn any connection between the settlements and Palestinian rage.

It is also a problem of American foreign policy. The Clinton administration's failure to maintain pressure on the Israeli government with regard to the settlements issue has enabled Israel to create "facts on the ground" that will be almost impossible to ameliorate given Sharon's intrasigence.

That intransigence renders the thought of a peace agreement, even a cease fire, all but unimaginable. "[T]o take out of negotiation even the most isolated settlements . . . is to undermine the possibility that following his military action, a meaningful political dialogue can begin," the editorial says.

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