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Musa A Keilani: No end to building barriers
August 08, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that the occupation authorities spent 1.1 billion shekels ($249 billion at the current exchange rate) on settlement building during the year 2011, reflecting a 38 per cent increase from the figure for 2010 and a two-decade high. Such spending was last seen in 1993 after Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) signed the Oslo agreements. Israel spent 2.5 billion shekels on settlements in 1993.

In July, the Associated Press reported a dramatic rise of the settler population under the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu — an increase of 18 per cent during his rule.

The number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank has tripled since 1993 to nearly 651,000 by the end of 2011. The figure excludes the 200,000 Jews living in occupied Arab East Jerusalem.

The UN says that there have been 3,437 Palestinians displaced and affected by Israeli demolitions in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.

The Israeli spending is in line with its stated goal of retaining the settlements to itself as part of any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Not that there is any prospect of resumed peace negotiations between them.

The mainstream Palestinian leadership as represented by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has accepted that it will have to accommodate Israel’s demand for retaining the settlements. What is irking them is the deceptive Israeli approach that the Jewish state wants to enter genuine negotiations and is ready for a solution, but that the Palestinians are blocking the way by their demand for a freeze in settlement building.

Israel stands in violation of all international rules and conventions that prohibit an occupying force from the forced transfer of civilian populations and forbids it from transferring any of its population to settle into the occupied territory.

The Palestinians are also facing a new problem. Armed settlers have taken over a large number of the water springs in the West Bank, restricting the Palestinians’ access to them, and are seen planning to take over dozens more of such sites.

The United Nations office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that settlers have developed 40 springs as tourist sites, deployed picnic tables and benches and given them Hebrew names. They are generating employment and revenue for the settlements and it is a way of promoting or advertising settlements as a fun place. The Palestinians are kept away from such sites by the armed settlers.

The Palestinians currently have limited access to 46 other springs where settlers had moved in and threatened to take control.

All the springs are located in an area — 60 per cent of the West Bank — designated as “C” under the Oslo agreements and which remains under Israeli military control.

“Despite the decline in their yield, springs have remained the single largest water source for irrigation and a significant source for watering livestock,” the UN report said, adding that some also provided water for domestic consumption in areas not connected to pipelines.

“The loss of access to springs and adjacent land reduced the income of affected farmers, who either stop cultivating the land or face a reduction in the productivity of their crops,” the report said.

“The main methods used by settlers to that end have been intimidation and threats, and the erection of fences around the targeted areas,” it added. “This phenomenon comes in the context of Israel’s longstanding policy of settling its civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory, in violation of international humanitarian law.”

Israel is also playing up a “problem” facing the government after the country’s supreme court rejected its request for a postponement of the dismantling of a large West Bank settler enclave, Migron, until late 2015.

It is a hyped-up issue that offers Netanyahu another opportunity to tell the world of the “difficulties” facing the world’s Jews seeking to live in peace and safety.

The figures on settlement spending during 2011 were revealed in a report produced by Israel’s central bureau of statistics for the US administration to enable it to deduct the annual settlement expenditure from US loan guarantees to Israel. In 2003 Israel stopped granting tax breaks to citizens seeking to move to the West Bank and pledged to the US that it was calling off such benefits.

However, the government continues to offer free education and health services for the settlers, including those who live in the so-called illegal outposts — enclaves built without state permission — and has also hooked them with the electricity and water services.

Clearly, the Israeli actions establish that the Jewish state is seeking only to consolidate its occupation of the Palestinian territories instead of ending it.

The Palestinians should not be expected to accept the Israeli actions and succumb to pressure to restart negotiations. If anyone is serious about peace in Palestine, then he or she should start by exerting pressure on Israel to accept international law as the basis for a solution. That is not happening and is unlikely to happen. And Israel is using the vacuum to perpetuate its occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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