Yediot’s defense analyst: Settlement construction spree in September dooms negotiations
Op-ed, Alex Fishman [defense correspondent], Yediot, May 6 2010
The opening was supposed to be a bit more festive. After all, the negotiations with the Palestinians are being renewed after a year and a half of a breakdown of communication. True, these are only proximity talks, a kind of indirect negotiations, but we are finally returning to the table. Both sides, however, are behaving as if the talks were forced upon them, as if they are doing the Americans a favor, despite the fact that for both Netanyahu and Abu Mazen, the renewal of the talks is a political oxygen balloon. So the Palestinians do not know when they are coming, and Netanyahu wants to talk about water rather than borders — in brief, we are starting off limply, which bodes ill for the future.
If the proximity talks are beginning in a cloudy atmosphere of uncertainty, their end — paradoxically enough — is much clearer. In four months, what lies in wait for us is an explosive charge that no one is thinking about how to start to disarm: Towards the end of September, the period of the construction freeze in the territories will end. But the government is burying its head in the sand and waiting for a miracle.
Anyone who believes that fear of the government has suddenly befallen the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and therefore they have been maintaining relative quiet until now in the face of the construction freeze — is somewhere between a dupe and a fool. It is not the firm hand of the police, or even the diligence of the Civil Administration inspectors. This quiet has only one reason: The council chairmen in Judea and Samaria and the residents are convinced that at the end of September, all the dams will be broken down and thousands of new buildings will rise on every hilltop. This is what they have been promised. It was neither hinted nor implied, this is what cabinet ministers said to them explicitly. No one is preparing them for the possibility that the situation could be different.
The battle against the freeze started with very strident tones. Three months before the freeze, local construction committees already met for days on end, approving plans. And so, on the day the freeze began, when a UAV was sent to film the area, it discovered hundreds of foundations for new buildings. A battle was waged over these housing starts in the first weeks of the freeze, until the settlers realized that it was all eyewash. That they should calm down. The construction may be halted for a short time, but then everything will be permitted, and even more.
They had something to cling to, because the freeze was not complete. The construction of 300 housing units in Beitar Illit, which was approved in 2008, was not stopped, and the construction of schools, synagogues and ritual baths continued. True, the construction in urban settlements was frozen, but the construction of private residential houses in the settlements continued. Moreover: No illegal settlement outpost was removed. It is true that building expansions were prevented in several places, but no illegal house that was built was demolished. The argument was that the outposts and the illegal construction were not being touched, because all the efforts were being put into enforcing the freeze. So all of the 87 illegal settlements that remained from the Talia Sasson report—are still there.
The council chairmen in Judea and Samaria were recently given planning powers. They cannot approve construction, but they can plan. And during the freeze, plans were prepared on a huge scale, and these are awaiting, at the end of the pipeline, for the day the order will be given. And that day is known to all: The end of the freeze period, on September 25. And what if they are not given authorization to build?
No one is preparing for the possibility that the proximity talks will develop into direct talks, which are contingent on the continuation of the construction freeze. No one is willing to face up to the settlers and say to them: Israel made a commitment to the US not to make any unilateral moves on the issue of construction in the territories, without coordinating with them in advance, so that neither side surprises the other. If the settlers want to blow up the coalition and break up the relations with the US, this will be their opportunity. The Israeli government, as usual, is neither willing nor able to cope with them.