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Settlements in Focus - Vol. 2, Issue 5: Settlements and the March 2006 Elections

Questions like this one and others are answered in the current issue: "What role have issues related to the settlements and the geography of the West Bank played in the current Israeli election campaign?"


Index and Link to all issues of APN's "Settlements in Focus"


(posted 3/24/06)

Settlements in Focus

Settlements and the March 2006 Elections - (Vol. 2, Issue 5)
A publication of Americans for Peace Now


What role have issues related to the settlements and the geography of the West Bank played in the current Israeli election campaign?

Next week Israelis will go to the polls to elect their next Knesset. As a result of Prime Minister Sharon's decision late last year to quit the Likud party and launch a new, centrist party called Kadima (which means "forward"), this election period is unique in Israel's history in that for the first time, there are three large, mainstream parties - Kadima, Labor, and Likud - competing over control of the Knesset and the right to form the next government.

Predictably, each party has sought to present itself as the one best suited to set Israeli policy on the whole range of issues in this election, including Israel's relationship with the Palestinians and on the related issues of settlements and the route of the security barrier in the West Bank. Several related themes have stood out, including:

Further removal of settlements: Given the summer 2005 disengagement from Gaza, an important theme of this campaign period has been the question of whether Israel should evacuate more settlements unilaterally, and if so, how seriously Israel should attempt negotiations with the Palestinians in advance. While eschewing terms like "disengagement" or "evacuation," Kadima is clearly calling for the removal of a number of West Bank settlements in the near future - a position that appears, on its face, to be very close to that of Labor, although there may be significant differences in the details of what the parties actually foresee happening in both the short and long term. Likud opposes any additional unilateral removal of settlements.

Outposts: The February 1, 2006 demolition of nine illegally built structures in the West Bank outpost of Amona (the result of a Peace Now petition to the Supreme Court) presented opportunities and challenges for all three major parties. For Kadima, it was a seen as a signal of Acting Prime Minister Olmert's strength and decisiveness. For Labor, it was an opportunity for the party spokespersons to claim that, if Labor had been in charge, the situation would not have been allowed to progress to the point of violent confrontation (i.e., Labor would have stopped the illegal construction long before this point). For Likud, it was an opportunity to suggest that the violent confrontations at Amona were the result of a callous government approach to the settlers - an approach which, spokespersons for the Right implied, had less to do with law and principle and more to do with scoring points during the election campaign. The Amona story, and the related issue of the future of illegal outposts in the West Bank, thus became another theme in the campaign.

Jerusalem: The question of the future borders of Jerusalem - a question closely linked to settlements - has been another theme in this election, in part because of statements on this issue made by Acting Prime Minister Olmert to the effect that, in his view, Israeli Jerusalem need not include certain Arab neighborhoods of the city (see below for examples).

E-1: The issue of whether the proposed settlement area known as E-1 will be built - and if so, when - has also been a focus of attention. The Likud Party formally launched its campaign at the site, with some political observers viewing this as a Likud attempt to embarrass the incumbent Kadima party, since Prime Minister Sharon had acted earlier to stop construction at this location. In response to this move by Likud, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded by announcing that the national police headquarters would move to the site imminently (a move that has been planned, but on hold, for years); construction at the site re-started shortly after that announcement. Later in the campaign, Olmert also articulated his support for the construction of the E-1 settlement at the site. For their part, Labor Party spokespersons have criticized the construction of the police station and the planned future development of E-1. For more information about the E-1 plan, see Settlements in Focus Vol. 1, Issue 1.

Throughout this election period, as the parties have maneuvered and sought to outflank each other with potential voters, they have discussed these issues and other issues, sometimes in great detail, and more often with deliberate vagueness, seeking to stress principles and broad programs, rather than specific details. This approach is not unusual - providing a sense of leadership without making too many commitments, after all, is what political parties and politicians do in most elections. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to explore the differences among the parties that have emerged in this campaign.

KADIMA: What is the Kadima party's position regarding settlements in the West Bank?

The "Action Plan" outlined on the Kadima website, states that:

Determination of Israel's future borders will be part of a final status agreement and will be based upon the following principles:

1. Israel will retain areas that are crucial for its security.
2. Israel will retain Jewish holy places that are of central religious and symbolic national importance, in particular a unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
3. Israel will retain the large Jewish settlement blocs.

KADIMA: What have Kadima leaders been saying about settlements in the West Bank?

Kadima leader Ehud Olmert has focused his party's campaign on a plan for "settling Israel's permanent borders" (lately dubbed the "convergence" plan), that would include evacuating some settlements, while retaining control of large settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley. This somewhat vague proposal in part conveys that the party is continuing in Sharon's path - when Sharon left Likud to form the Kadima party, it was widely understood that his main goal in the coming years was to set Israel's permanent borders, unilaterally if necessary. On November 21st he told a press conference: "We will work to set the permanent border of the nation."

The "convergence" plan also distinguishes Kadima from Labor and Likud by suggesting that Kadima has a new and innovative approach to deal with the occupation. Generally, Olmert and other Kadima leaders have remained vague about the details of the plan, preferring to sell the broad principle and concept. This vagueness has led to a speculation about which specific settlements might be evacuated, whether the initiative would be wholly unilateral, and what borders for Israel Olmert envisions. Following a slight decline in Kadima's polling numbers in recent weeks, however, some additional - though at times contradictory - specificity has been heard.

Kadima Knesset candidate and former head of the Israeli General Security Services Avi Dichter was the first to present some specific ideas. In media interviews on March 5th and 6th, Dichtor specified that there would be future settlement withdrawals to concentrate the settlements into a series of blocs, and that these withdrawals - outside of the context of negotiations with a Palestinian "partner" - would only be "civilian." That is, they would not include a withdrawal of military control over the areas evacuated. Dichter named a series of settlements to be evacuated: Elon Moreh, Yitzhar, Itamar, Shilo, Psagot, Tekoa, Tapuah, P'nei Hever, Nokdim, Ma'on and Otniel. Unsourced media reports at the time also added Har Bracha, Eli, Ateret, and Halamish to Kadima's evacuation list. Yediot Ahoronot's report of this story grouped the settlements to be withdrawn into four categories: "extremist settlements on the Samaria mountain ridge," "isolated settlements in the Binyamin region," "settlements east of the Etzion Bloc," and "settlements in the southern Hebron hills."

Speculation that Dichter's statements did not represent Kadima's program was fueled by the endorsement of Olmert by influential settler rabbi Yoel Ben-Nun - an endorsement that occurred on the same day as Dichter's comments and was reportedly based on Olmert's commitment to consult with settlers as he moves forward with promise to determine Israel's final borders. Interior Minister Gideon Ezra subsequently said that Olmert agreed with the "civilian" evacuation approach, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also said that Israel would keep its military options open in the West Bank, with or without bases there.

At the end of that week, Olmert granted interviews to Israel's three major newspapers, in which he provided some details of his plan. The plan is best summed up in two paragraphs from Maariv's interview:

"'I intend to examine whether there is a chance of entering negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the road map. But we will not wait forever. We will determine our future ourselves: we will converge behind the fence line. Jerusalem will remain united. The central settlement blocs will be maintained and strengthened. At the end of the process we will attain full separation from most of the Palestinian population.'

"According to Olmert, after the implementation of the plan, 'no Jew whom we must protect will remain on the far side of the fence, which means that there will be places where the fence will move. Sometimes eastwards, sometimes westwards.' However, despite his promise to keep Jerusalem united, he admits that the city 'will not necessarily be in the area that it is today,' and even used an example to illustrate what he said: 'as to the Shuafat refugee camp, for instance, I have no idea how it contributes to greater Jerusalem or to its unity.'"

KADIMA: What is Kadima's position on settlements in and around Jerusalem (including E-1)?

In a March 9th interview in the Jerusalem Post, Kadima leader Ehud Olmert stated:

"Certainly E-1 will be built. I said that Ma'aleh Adumim will be part of Israel, and E-1 is a necessary condition to keeping Ma'aleh Adumim. We will not keep Ma'aleh Adumim as an enclave, but there will be territorial contiguity from Jerusalem to Ma'aleh Adumim." The interviewer followed up, asking, "Within the next four years you intend to begin building E-1?" "Certainly," Olmert responded.

In that same interview, with respect to Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, Olmert noted:

"If you ask me whether the Shuafat refugee camp needs to be part of Jerusalem, I don't see any benefit in that for Israel. Everything must be considered when we get into the process of intensive examination within Israel about our permanent borders - what neighborhoods are not an integral part of Jerusalem and not an integral part of Jewish tradition. I'm not sure about saying our forefathers prayed toward Shuafat."

During a March 23rd debate on the future of Jerusalem held at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, the Kadima representative (Otniel Schneller, a former leader of the Yesha Council of settlements) was quoted in Ha'aretz as stating:

"The Old City, Mount Scopus, the Mount of Olives, the City of David, Sheikh Jarra will remain in our hands, but Kafr Akeb, A-Ram, Shuafat, Hizma, A-Zaim, A-Tur, Abu Dis are not part of historic Jerusalem, and in the future, when the Palestinian state is established, they will become its capital."

KADIMA: What is Kadima's position regarding outposts?

The "Action Plan" delineated on the Kadima Party website states that:

"A Kadima led government will implement the Roadmap, as ratified by the Israeli government, and will fulfill all of its commitments within the framework of the Roadmap's first phase. This includes the dismantling of illegal outposts as soon as possible."

In a March 9th interview in the Jerusalem Post, the interviewer asked Olmert if he had learned any lessons from the Feb. 1st evacuation and demolition of 9 illegally-built homes in the outpost of Amona (discussed in detail in Settlements in Focus Vol. 2, Issue 3). Olmert responded:

"The first thing I learned is that when the Supreme Court makes decisions, you have to abide by them. Another thing I learned is that there is a small group of people in Judea and Samaria who have lost their proper proportions, whose rabbis and responsible leadership have no control over them, and who are liable to threaten the security forces with violence and even carry out acts of violence, like throwing stones and blocks, as they did. But the most important thing, which I knew beforehand, is that it will be necessary to conduct a dialogue with representatives among the settlers."

LABOR: What is the Labor party position regarding settlements in the West Bank?

The Labor Party has called for keeping major settlement blocs and evacuating isolated settlements, and is perceived to differ with Kadima on its willingness to engage more seriously in negotiations with the Palestinians. The Labor Party throughout the pre-election period has sought to focus attention on social and economic issues, and has downplayed issues related to the Palestinians, including settlements.

The Labor party platform, as outlined on the party's website, stipulates that:

"...the large settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria will be added to the State of Israel; the isolated settlements that are not in the settlement blocs added to Israel will be dismantled...investment in the territories will stop and the conclusions of the Sasson report will be implemented immediately, including dismantling illegal outposts." http://www.avoda2006.org.il/PageLItem.asp?cc=0124&id=186

LABOR: What have Labor leaders been saying about settlements in the West Bank?

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, published Jan. 2, 2006, Labor Party leader Amir Peretz was asked to comment on the Gaza disengagement and its implications for the West Bank. He responded:

"The withdrawal from Gaza was unavoidable. The question now is whether we have fully felt its repercussions. When you take a unilateral step, you never truly know what will be affected. The withdrawal from Gaza and the withdrawal from Lebanon were both steps that take us back to '67 borders. If the withdrawals had taken place as part of a treaty, it would have been clear that it was part of the political negotiations. The way it happened, it gave more credit to Hamas than to Fatah. For Israel, [the withdrawal] was extremely important. It shifted the thinking of many Israelis. It ended the mentality that settlements are a holy [untouchable] thing, and allowed people to believe that dismantling settlements was necessary."

"In Judea and Samaria we can't take unilateral steps, [though] we can evacuate settlements, one by one, here or there. It's like a pressure cooker: to relieve the pressure, we may dismantle a settlement here, a settlement there. When the heat rises, you release pressure so it doesn't explode."

In the same interview, he was asked about his first moves regarding the West Bank. Peretz responded that there are three things "we should do immediately." These include:

"...stop all funding to expanding communities [in the West Bank] and only continue with minimal aid needed to maintain the communities. Currently, there is large-scale funding. I am for continuing only the most minimal, basic things, such as health and education. We need to stop building in those areas. Instead, we need to put those funds into developing the Negev and Galilee."

When pressed by the interviewer whether he meant stopping funding even for major settlement blocs, Peretz responded,

"We need to be realistic. We need to show that we will take realistic steps in negotiations. And we need to say that our development will be in the Negev and the Galilee. Every shekel we invest in those areas is a shekel for the future of Israel..."

In a March 12th radio interview (Israel 103 FM Radio), Peretz was pressed to explain how the Labor party position regarding settlements differed from the plan of Ehud Olmert and the Kadima party. Peretz explained:

"...it is very clear that, with regard to all of its political plans, Kadima has assumed for itself the world perspective of the Labor party. The only difference is our (a) deep conviction in the plan, and (b) determined belief that it is possible to negotiate with, and under no circumstances should we close the door on, Abu Mazen - and to not tell him he is no longer relevant, like they are doing today in Kadima. To the contrary, it is necessary to do anything possible to negotiate.

"We cannot make a comparison between Lebanon and Gaza, and Judea and Samaria. It is perfectly clear that any unilateral disengagement that might be carried out [from the West Bank] would not be recognized. Because in Gaza we returned to the '67 borders, but in Judea and Samaria we have no intention of returning to the '67 borders. Thus, negotiation is the essence of this plan..."

On March 19th, Peretz announced a new plan for West Bank settlements and settlers who might be evacuated in the future. In its March 20, 2006 issue, Ha'aretz reported that the plan was approved by Labor's Central Committee, and

"...calls for new neighborhoods in veteran Negev cities and towns to absorb communities of West Bank evacuees. Peretz also proposed that evacuees who move to the periphery get a 30% increase in their compensation payments. He said that if he forms the next government, he will put the plan into action immediately, and would also get a law passed providing compensation for settlers who leave the settlements voluntarily."

LABOR: What is Labor's position on settlements in and around Jerusalem (including E-1)?

The Labor party platform, as outlined on the party's website, states:

"Jerusalem, with all its Jewish neighborhoods, will be Israel's eternal capital, and the sites holy to Judaism will remain under Israeli control."

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, published Jan. 2, 2006, Peretz was asked about his views on dividing Jerusalem. He responded:

"My thinking on Jerusalem is simple. There are areas that are clearly a part of Israel, but we need to come to an agreement whereby everyone can practice his religious beliefs. In the end, the state of Israel needs to decide how many Palestinians it is willing to absorb. It's not about taking a yardstick and measuring out Jerusalem. You can't decide that an area is yours without saying the people who live in it will receive full rights. Again, we need to ask how many Palestinians we are willing to absorb, and decide [about Jerusalem] on that basis."

During a March 23rd debate on the future of Jerusalem held at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Labor representative Colette Avital was quoted in Ha'aretz as stating:

"We're talking about division, but not explicitly. The reality is that the city is divided, and it wasn't Peres who divided it. There is a dream and there is a reality. We are not giving up the Temple Mount or the sites sacred to Judaism - and that is different from Camp David 2000 - but we are certainly prepared to give up many Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem."

LABOR: What is Labor's position regarding outposts?

The Labor party platform, as outlined on the party's website, states:

"...investment in the territories will stop and the conclusions of the Sasson report will be implemented immediately, including dismantling illegal outposts."

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, published Jan. 2, 2006, Peretz asked about his first moves regarding the West Bank. Peretz responded that there are three things "we should do immediately." These include:

"...adopt the recommendations of the Talia Sasson report, and dismantle the illegal outposts."

In a news conference on March 8th, Peretz went further, stating:

"The law is the law, and we need to implement it," Peretz told a news conference. "We promise to dismantle all illegal outposts within a year of my being elected prime minister. All 105 outposts will be dismantled."

LIKUD: What is the Likud party position regarding settlements in the West Bank?

Generally, Likud spokespersons have been vague about policy regarding settlements. However, they have been very clear regarding the question of further unilateral evacuations of settlements: the Likud opposes them. The Likud campaign has sought to tie this issue firmly to Hamas and the danger of rewarding Hamas in any way. It has also sought to capitalize on the Hamas victory to stir up fears regarding potential Israel withdrawals from the West Bank territory. Another prominent distinction that Likud spokespersons have been making is their desire to see the route of the barrier changed to include more West Bank territory in the "Israeli" side.

The "Summary of Likud Policies" posted on the Likud party's website stipulates, among other things:

NO - unilateral withdrawals
NO - strengthening of the terror organizations
NO - Negotiating with the Palestinians until:
- They fully acknowledge Israel's right to exist
- There is a full cessation of terror and incitement
- Any future negotiations will be on a reciprocal basis only
NO - withdrawal from the Golan Heights
YES - Completion of the security fence around the settlement blocks at a safe distance from the airport and the central highways.
YES - A united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

http://www.likud.org.il/anglos.asp Note: the English-language version is not identical to the Hebrew-language version.

LIKUD: What have Likud leaders been saying about settlements in the West Bank?

On January 17th, the Jerusalem Post quoted Likud member (and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman) Yuval Steinitz detailing the Likud position on settlements:

"A unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank is a prescription for continuous conflict until Israel is forced back to the 1967 border he said. The existing settlement blocs are not enough to prevent Kassams falling on the center of the country. That's why the border has to include the Shomron hills from Elkana to Modi'in Illit."

Speaking to the Annual AIPAC conference on March 7th, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu stated:

"...Power did not tame them [Iran], and power will not tame the Hamas. On the contrary, power will give them the opportunity to threaten us as never before. And so what we must do is build an iron wall around Hamas. What we must do is build an iron wall around Hamas. The first is a security wall. This means that we must not give them an inch.

"We must not give them an inch, and especially we have to make sure that the Jordan Valley, which guards the eastern entry to Israel -- that also is the buffer between the West Bank and Jordan -- that that remains firmly in our hands. Keep the Jordan Valley and the Judean desert firmly in Israeli hands. We must, at the same time, push the fence back from the most sensitive strategic heart of Israel. This means Ben Gurion Airport in which many of you land and take off -- we must push the fence away so that the shoulder-fired rockets that have now entered into Gaza cannot and should not ever reach any Israeli aircraft. That is the first order of the day.

"And, equally, we must push the fence back from the very concentrated area of Gush Dan [the Tel Aviv metropolitan area], the coastal plain -- heavily populated coastal plain of Israel -- and the main highways connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In other words, instead of allowing the Hamas to spread, make sure that we take the strategic areas that give Israel defensible borders against Hamas."

Interviewed on Israel's 103FM Radio on March 12th, 2006, Netanyahu addressed the question of what parts of the West Bank Israel needs to retain:

"We must retain all of the Jordan Valley because we need to make the fence further away, eastward and not bring it westward. We do not need to put the Palestinians, Hamas, in the Jerusalem neighborhoods. Olmert said, for example, that the Hamas could be in Shuafat. Thanks a lot! We learned something. We are not blind. We are not suckers. We will not give things away to a body that declares today in its platform that it plans to act against us in order to wipe out our country. What happened to the Jews? What happened to them? They are not able to understand this? You go and give away territory and bring Hamas closer to our cities.

"We believe there is another way. There is a way for security that could give a chance for peace, give a chance for stability. This is the meaning of creating true security borders and not dangerous borders that bring the terrorism closer. We will keep all of Jerusalem. We will apply massive international and other pressure in order to replace the dangerous Hamas regime with a leadership with which we will be able to make peace. This is a very big difference. I am happy that people are indecisive. There are many people like this. Very many, close to 25 mandates that are sitting now and listening to us. Each of them does his own considering and will ask himself what is the best way to defend our country, our children - to give more and more territory to Hamas or to stand against them and apply pressure to replace them."

LIKUD: What is Likud's position on settlements in and around Jerusalem (including E-1)?

In a March 12th interview on Israel's 103FM Radio, Likud leader Netanyahu stated:

"We will keep all of Jerusalem."

During a March 23rd debate on the future of Jerusalem held at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Ha'aretz reported that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who represented the Likud, said dividing Jerusalem would only perpetuate the conflict, not resolve it. Ha'aretz quoted Rivlin saying:

"I am still holding on to the 'obsolete' Bible, and am adhering to the dream, and believe that we can beat the demographics in Jerusalem and that we must fight and not give up."

LIKUD: What is Likud's position on outposts?

The Jerusalem Post reported that, speaking January 22nd at the Sixth Herzliya Conference, Netanyahu stated that he would remove illegal settlement outposts. Speaking in a radio interview on February 9th, Netanyahu reportedly stated that if elected Prime Minister, he would move to evacuate outposts, but only as part of a dialogue with settlers.

OTHERS: What are other parties saying about settlements and related issues?

Meretz:

The Meretz party platform states: "The Israeli interest was, and remains, to end the occupation and implement the partition of the country. This must be accomplished in the coming session of the Knesset through an agreement on the basis of the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Accords [which include plans to remove settlements from much of the West Bank]. The victory of the Hamas in the Palestinian Authority does not change this Israeli interest."

In a March 12th interview on Israel's Reshet Bet Radio, Beilin stated: ".in the Geneva Accords, which Meretz is committed to, Maaleh Adumim is part of the future Israel, part of Israel's future borders, but in the Geneva Accords, Maaleh Adumim is not approached via E1, but through a road and tunnel.The issue is in the fact that E1 has turned into a litmus test - that is why the American are also so against it. For whoever builds E1 is preventing a contiguous Palestinian state..." In response to a question about whether Meretz would still join a coalition government if that government were building E1, Beilin responded, "...if Ehud Olmert says that in the next [parliamentary] term he will build E1, he will certainly lose us. There is no doubt we will not support something like that, for that would mean that there will never be an agreement, unless you propose to build it before the elections and tear it down again after the elections, which is, it seems, Ehud Olmert's real proposal, in his struggle with Benjamin Netanyahu."

National Union-National Religious Party:

NU-NRP leader Benny Elon, writing in a March 20th Jerusalem Post op-ed, stated: "...National Union-NRP leaders have a clear vision, based on respect for our heritage and our right to live securely in our homeland. We believe in creating a strong right-wing bloc to prevent further territorial withdrawals...The National Union-NRP believes our right to settle the Land of Israel is based not on demography or security considerations, but on the eternal right of the Jewish people to a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.We believe the State of Israel must allocate resources and create incentives for the development of the Negev, Galilee, and Golan, as well as in Judea and Samaria [i.e., the West Bank], taking steps to encourage Jewish population growth within those areas.

Yisrael Beiteinu:

Party leader Avigdor Leiberman stated on March 20th, as quoted in Ha'aretz: "Unilateral concessions do not achieve security; they bolster terror. Fleeing the territories is an end in itself." The party's platform also endorses drawing Israel's borders to include West Bank settlements and to exclude Arab-inhabited areas that are presently part of Israel (i.e., areas inside the Green Line, whose inhabitants are citizens of Israel who are Arab). A summary of the platform on the party's website explains, "the responsibility over territories populated with an Arab majority like Umm El Fahm in the Triangle [a region within Israel adjacent to the Green Line that is largely populated by Israeli Arabs] will be reassigned to the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, territories in Judea and Samaria and strongholds of Jewish settlement will be formally added to the State of Israel. Israel is our home. Palestine is their home."


Produced by Lara Friedman and Noam Shelef, Americans for Peace Now



Index and Link to all issues of APN's "Settlements in Focus"