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February 26, 2006 - Vol. 8, Issue 17


SETTLEMENTS KEEP ON TRUCKING: Peace Now's annual report on settlements and outposts released on Wednesday showed that the settler population grew by 5% in 2006 to 268,000. The movement also revealed that construction in settlements continued apace. In 2006, tenders were issues for 952 housing units, compared with 1184 in 2005. All of the tenders issued in 2006 were issued well after Ehud Olmert became Prime Minister and Amir Peretz Defense Minister. In all, Israel is now constructing roughly 3000 new settler homes.

In addition, Peace Now revealed that around 2000 Israelis live in 102 outposts scattered across the West Bank. While no new outposts were established in 2006, construction in the outposts continued steadily, including the construction of permanent buildings in 30 outposts, road paving in seven outposts, and the addition of 127 mobile homes throughout the West Bank (although 30 were removed). Only one outpost - which was unpopulated - was removed in 2006.

In a wide-ranging interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, renowned Israel author A.B. Yehoshua commented on the risk that settlements pose for Israel's future: "I sometimes think that in 1967, when the settlement enterprise began, it should have been opposed much more strongly in order to stop the matter that has entangled us so greatly and is entangling us for the future. It would have been preferable for us to sit in the territories with the army for another 100 years, than to bring civilians into there. As soon as you put a civilian there, he remains there forever. Zionism has always maintained borders, but the principle was broken in the Six-Day War, when they started taking one piece after another, until the matter became inseparable. These Siamese twins became re-connected through all kinds of blood vessels, and it is no accident that blood began to be spilled there in such quantities that you no longer know if they can be separated at all."

Yehoshua also spoke about the occupation's corruption of Israeli society: "Since 1967, two parallel systems have been created here. The normative, constitutional, democratic system of the State of Israel, and on the other hand the administered territories, where the moral and police norms were completely different. With time, these things trickled down and contaminated our norms, like poisoned groundwater." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 2/16/07; Ha'aretz, 2/21/07; Reuters, 2/21/07; Ynet, 2/21/07)

THIS TIME I MEAN IT: Aides for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are suggesting that a crackdown against illegal outposts is imminent. Peretz aides told Ynet on Thursday that the defense minister "plans to go all the way on the issue of illegal outposts and in full force. He has been saying that illegal outposts must be evacuated for a long time, but now is the time to implement it. We cannot continue stalling. He is ready to do this even at the cost of a conflict with the prime minister."

At least the spin from Olmert's office concedes that action is required. The prime minister's aides told reporters that the negotiations with the settler representatives have failed, and that "it was impossible to reach any agreement with them on this issue. Therefore, there will be no choice, but to evacuate outposts without an agreement and without understandings." (Ynet, 2/22/07)

FOOD INSECURE: According to a draft UN report, 34% of Palestinian households are "food insecure," with income below $1.68 per day and/or showing decreasing food expenditures. An additional 12% of Palestinians are "vulnerable" to food insecurity. The situation is reportedly "more grim" in Gaza where four out of five families reduced their spending - including expenditures on food - in the first quarter of 2006 alone. The report says that the problem "is primarily a function of restricted economic access to food resulting from ongoing political conditions."

The UN's World Food Program officially defines "food security" as "the ability of a household to produce and/or access at all times the minimum food needed for a healthy and active life."

Although "traditionally strong ties" among Palestinian families have been thought to reduce the possibility of "acute household hunger," the report by the UN's World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization notes "growing concerns about the sustainability of Palestinians' resilience." The report acknowledges that while the new findings are similar to those noted in 2003, the number of Palestinians suffering, including children, is much higher because of rapid population growth. (Independent [UK], 2/23/07)

(DON'T) TALK TO SYRIA: Writing in Ma'ariv, Amir Rappaport discusses the continued disagreement between the Mossad and IDF Intelligence on the value of peace talks with Syria, noting that "the official IDF Intelligence Branch position is that Israel must respond positively to the Syrian call to conduct peace negotiations. According to this position, Israel will benefit even from the very existence of the negotiations, as that would dissipate the tension and distance the danger of war. In contrast to this, should Israel not respond positively to the Syrian call for negotiations, this would push the Syrians unequivocally to choose the military option."

Ha'aretz reports that "at the Foreign Ministry and within the defense establishment, there is a greater degree of openness" to the Syrian peace overtures, "and the overall view is that the door should not be closed entirely to the Syrians. Similarly, many believe that the Syrian offers should be tested for their sincerity." Unfortunately, these Israeli views have run headfirst into the Bush Administration's intransigence. Ha'aretz also reports that in recent meetings Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "was forceful" and "unequivocal" in demanding that Israel "desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria."

An editorial column by Yael Gwurtz in Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday took Olmert to task for acquiescing to this American demand: "The surrender to Condoleezza Rice's dictated terms that Israel will refrain even from feeling out the seriousness of Syria's intentions to negotiate is nothing less than a scandal. With all due respect to the United States, the supreme duty of the Israeli leadership is to its citizens, to do everything possible to ensure that they will not be sent out to kill or be killed except in a war of no choice. And with all due respect to Israel's duty to be attentive to the United States, there are levels of independence that a sovereign state must keep for itself. A responsible Israeli leader cannot settle for assessments about Syrian intentions. It must examine them. A strong leader would understand that this is precisely the matter about which he must deal with the United States." (Ha'aretz, 2/23/07; Ma'ariv, 2/25/07; Yedioth Ahronoth, 2/25/07)

HEZBOLLAH PREPARING FOR NEXT WAR? During a session of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Intelligence Research Department Director Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz appeared to have disagreed over the extent to which Hezbollah has re-armed since the Israel-Hezbollah war. General Baidatz noted that since the war, Hezbollah succeeded in rehabilitating its military capability and even increasing it. Peretz clarified Baidatz's comments explaining that "Hezbollah is in a better state than in the past in terms of its potential, but that is not the situation on the ground." According to Peretz, Hezbollah is continuing to arm itself, but many of the weapons it hopes to obtain are still in Syria and have not yet reached the hands of its people. While touring the northern border, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke to this issue: "The fact that Hezbollah has weapons does not mean that it has strength. There is no room for hysteria. The blow that it received is still fresh." New IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi added "Hezbollah seeks to make up the abilities that it lost during the war, but a tour along the border demonstrates that it is far from this."

A Yedioth Ahronoth report by Alex Fishman confirms Peretz's explanation. Fishman reports that, according to Israeli officials, Hezbollah holds over 10,000 short-range rockets in Lebanon, most of which have been there since before the war, when Hezbollah had between 12,000 and 14,000 short-range rockets, but "Hezbollah's truly large stockpiles are located throughout Syria." Fishman notes that "weaponry is being smuggled from Syria to Lebanon, as of now, in a very slow and controlled manner due to restrictions that the Syrians have imposed on themselves for fear of becoming entangled." While noting that Hezbollah is preparing for the possibility of another war, Fishman also reports that "for now, Hezbollah is finding it difficult to reach the Blue Line, to carry out observations and gather intelligence. The new UNIFIL is doing a better job than the old UNIFIL that we knew. But as soon as the political conditions are created that will enable Hezbollah to shift gears in southern Lebanon, Israel will start to hear that the organization is harassing the UN personnel-to the point that their parent countries will send them back home. From Israel's standpoint, this will be a sign attesting to the fact that Hezbollah is becoming ready for another round."

Indeed a report by the British Times claims that Hezbollah is openly building new lines of defenses just north of the UNIFIL patrolled area in south Lebanon. According to this report Hezbollah fighters are preparing new fortifications and expanding old positions in the mountains on the northern bank of the Litani River while Christian and Druze-owned land in the region is being purchased by businessmen affiliated with Hezbollah. A UNIFIL officer says that "we can see them building new positions. There's a lot of trucks coming into the area as well," while a Western diplomat notes that "it seems to be an expansion of what was there before the war." (Ma'ariv 2/20, 2/21 & 2/22/07; Yedioth Ahronoth, 2/21/07; Times [UK], 2/26/07)

ANTI-MISSILE DEPLOYMENT: Israel intends to deploy additional Arrow launchers and interceptors in more locations. Moreover, the Green Pine radar system that serves the Arrow is being upgraded so as to increase its detection range by 50%. The Arrow intercepting missiles have also been significantly upgraded so that the Arrow missile is capable of intercepting surface-to-surface missiles at a higher altitude and a greater distance from Israeli soil. Moreover, the Arrow interception system can now be operated from control centers that are distant from the rockets, such that missiles can be deployed all across Israel without having to establish new batteries to that end.

One of the important ramifications of the improvements is that the Arrow system will now have two opportunities to deal with every missile that the enemy fires at Israel: the first Arrow missile will be fired from the site closest to where the incoming enemy missile was fired and will try to intercept it at a great distance and at a very high altitude. But even if the first Arrow missile fails to intercept the incoming surface-to-surface missile, a second Arrow missile can be fired at the enemy missile from a different location, aimed to strike the enemy missile at a medium altitude closer to Israel. (Ma'ariv, 2/21/07)