Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories

Brit Tzedek invites you to sign-up for a free electronic or snail mail subscription to the  "Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories" from the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

The Report, issued five times a year contains analysis, data, and maps that chronicle:

  • The evolution of Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights

  • The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, particularly as they relate to settlements

  • The evolution of US and international attitudes towards settlements

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Evacuation of Additional Settlements on Olmert's Agenda
March-April 2006 Settlement Report 
See full Report here

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was keenly aware that the execution of Israel's "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip and a portion of the northern West Bank was critical if Israel is to continue to dominate the diplomatic playing field and maximize its security and settlement interests in the occupied territories. Sharon's exit from Israeli politics came far sooner than he had anticipated, but as he intended, the process he set in motion, and the principles that he established, cannot be ignored by his elected successor, whatever his party affiliation.
Sharon initiated a revolution in two central aspects of Israel's settlement policy--he forced a reluctant Israel Defense Force (IDF) command to change its security doctrine regarding the occupied territories and thereby transformed the relationship between Israeli security and settlements; he also began to undermine the shared interests between the key elements of the settlement enterprise and the state.
It would not only be premature but also fundamentally incorrect, however, to suggest that the changes wrought by Sharon have dealt a death blow to settlements. Neither he nor his successor harbors any such intention, even in many areas east of the separation barrier and certainly not in East Jerusalem, the "seam zone" west of the barrier, and the land-hungry settlement "blocs" where the majority of the almost one half million Israeli settlers live. Israel's settlement enterprise has been decades in the making. Billions of dollars have been allocated by the government, and the private sector is heavily invested. National institutions, laws, and political parties have been created and mobilized to nurture and expand settlements. A significant number of Israelis, many of them settlers, have a direct investment in national policies supporting their maintenance and expansion. Even if they desired, and as yet they do not, Israel's political and security leadership cannot easily undo what their predecessors have long labored to make permanent. Nor can Palestinian opposition of whatever form, or policies of the international community, easily compel an Israeli retreat of dimensions necessary to establish the territorial basis for stable, peaceful relations between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.
Settlements Not a Security Asset
Disengagement from the Gaza Strip marked the birth of a new defense concept and military deployment for Israel's territorial perimeter with the Gaza Strip, with significant implications for the West Bank as well. In Gaza, the protection of Israel's security is no longer based on civilian Israeli settlement and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF's) direct physical control of Gaza and its border with Egypt. In its place, Israel now depends on perimeter security and the calibrated use of intensifying levels of airborne firepower and artillery to deter Palestinian violations of the border. The transformation is only beginning in the West Bank, where Israel evacuated less than 1,000 civilians from four small settlements in the Jenin region but maintained full Israeli security and civil control in the evacuated area (Area C).
For almost four decades Israel based its defense doctrine in the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank on the creation of a symbiotic relationship between Israeli civilian settlement and the IDF. This relationship was actually strengthened during the Oslo era, at great cost to Palestinians, as Israel redeployed within the area in a manner that boosted settlements and its overall strategic control of all the occupied territories.
Settlements and the IDF's expansive deployment and operational control within Gaza itself--the two key foundations of previous Israeli policy--have been abandoned under this new post-disengagement policy. Absent too is an Israeli intention to exercise absolute control over those elements of Gaza's external perimeter not immediately adjacent to Israel, including the Gaza-Egypt border and prospective sea and air links. As a consequence, Israel in practice has surrendered its longstanding demand for Gaza's demilitarization as a feature of a negotiated agreement--a key feature of the Oslo era--choosing instead to deploy deterrent, retaliatory, and special forces outside Gaza. In this sense, Israel's territorial relationship toward Gaza now exhibits a greater similarity to Israel's pre-1967 relationship than to the era of direct occupation from 1967 to 2005. Trade and labor relationships have also changed, although not as yet so radically. Israel has signaled its lack of interest in maintaining the single economic envelope including Israel and the occupied territories that was for decades at the heart of occupation policy and was formulated in the Paris Protocols of 1994. Israel is actively considering alternative economic and trade options to govern the new era.
As part of this policy, Israel is not only separating itself from Gaza. It has also isolated Gaza from the West Bank and begun to separate itself from parts of the West Bank as well. Restrictive controls on the movement of Palestinians, as well as goods and services, from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank define Israeli policy today, notwithstanding agreements and understandings to the contrary. Suggestions by Israeli officials that these increasingly draconian policies are a result of Hamas's popular victory in elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council are meant to give a politically palatable justification to a wideranging Israeli policy that proceeds without reference to Palestinian needs regardless of the Palestinian party in power. This concept has emerged incrementally over the last fifteen years to a point where a "hard" border, administered by Israel increasingly through international-like crossing points, now limits and frequently prevents Palestinian passage from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank.
Updating Israeli Security in the West Bank--Evacuate More Settlements, Maintain Troops
On December 14, 1997, Israel's minister of defense Yitzhak Mordecai presented to the cabinet of Likud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu an updated "Security Interests" map initially prepared by the IDF Planning Branch at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's request during the Taba talks preceding the signing of the Oslo II accord in September 1995. This map left some 45 of 144 West Bank settlements outside Israeli sovereignty, while providing for their extraterritorial status through unspecified "special arrangements." The 1997 Security Interests map marked the following areas for annexation to Israel:
-- a 10 to 15 km wide strip along the Jordan Valley border
-- a 3 to 7 km wide strip along the Green Line
-- two roadways--one in the north and one in the south-- running in an east-west direction across the West Bank.
In recent months, the IDF Planning Branch has revisited the issue, narrowing Israel's security interests in the Jordan Valley and noting a readiness to move the separation barrier closer to the Green Line in some areas (perhaps south of Hebron) while pushing it to the east in others (near Ben Gurion airport for example). Building upon the premises of the Gaza disengagement plan, an authoritative March 6 report on the next stage of disengagement in the West Bank by Ha'aretz correspondent Aluf Benn noted, "The general view in the defense establishment is that settlements do not contribute directly to security and also force the IDF to deploy troops for their defense. Moreover, there is no particular settlement whose location is viewed by the IDF as critical to security."
These are remarkable words. Had such sentiments prevailed in the first decades of occupation, there would have been no justification for the entire framework of Israeli settlement.
Israel's defense establishment has not addressed directly the politically explosive issue of which settlements to evacuate, limiting itself to recommendations based on controlling topographical features and water resources. Almost all settlements west of the separation barrier as well as those around greater Jerusalem and Ariel, however, appear to be politically untouchable.
While supporting an unspecified degree of settlement evacuation from the West Bank, the IDF assessment, building upon the precedent established in the September 2005 West Bank disengagement, supports continuing Israeli security control over evacuated areas in the West Bank, in contrast to Gaza, where Israel withdrew settlements as well as armed forces.
This type of deployment--which would place Israeli occupation troops in "foreign" territory without what has long been the politically vital rationale of protecting Israeli settlements--was rejected by Israeli policymakers after the 1967 war as politically unsustainable. It adoption today represents a clear break with a central assumption of Israeli occupation and security policy that transformed Israel's own understanding of its presence in the territories from hostile occupation of another people into the protection of its own citizens (settlers) in Israel's homeland. It is not clear at all that this is a politically sustainable option among Israelis not anxious to repeat the IDF's divisive experience in south Lebanon.
The IDF may be prepared to take greater control over a settlement map that over the last two decades has developed a life of its own. In contrast to its 1997 effort, the new IDF map sanctions evacuation of the settlements of the Jordan Valley. Military officials are apparently content with a limited "security belt" without civilian settlements in the Jordan Valley on the model presented at Camp David in July 2000. It also appears that the IDF is no longer committed to maintaining control over the west-east routes between Israel and the Jordan Valley running east from Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim a concomitant of its desire to remain in the Jordan Valley, which can be resupplied via the Israeli town of Bet She'an to the Valley's north. In contrast to the 1997 plan, the heights and settlements if not military installations like the monitoring facility at Ba'al Hatzor west of the Jordan Valley along the route of the Allon Road, may also be dispensable. Evacuation of settlements along this route also suggests that the smaller settlement blocs between the Allon Road and Route 60 further west--traditionally the main north-south thoroughfare that Palestinians are all but prevented from using because of settlements sited along its route--could also be on the block. Indeed, Army Radio quoted former Security Service chief and Kadima Party star Avi Dichter as saying that among the settlements to be evacuated would be Elon Moreh, Yitzhar, Itamar, Shilo, Psagot, and Tapuah, all of which lie along this route. Evacuation of these settlements makes no sense without an eventual evacuation of Jordan Valley and Allon Road settlements. Dichter also mentioned additional settlements located south of Jerusalem--Tekoa, P'nei Hever, Nokdim, Ma'on and Otniel.
The settlement list noted by Dichter and other Israeli politicians should not be seen as authoritative, but rather as the first evidence of the furious jockeying to decide the scope of Israel's next evacuation from West Bank settlements. As Sharon intended, further withdrawals are almost certain to come. And as he intended, they will not signal and end to the battle between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather yet another chapter in their continuing conflict.

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