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May 26, 2009 - Vol. 10, Issue 35


DUCKING THE TWO-STATE SOLUTION: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came closer than ever to accepting a two-state solution during a Cabinet meeting on Sunday when he discussed a Palestinian state as a possible outcome of negotiations.  "There will need to be limits on the Palestinian state in the final status arrangement," Netanyahu said. "If a Palestinian state endangers Israel , there will be no American support for it."


Ma'ariv reporters Amir Buhbut and Maya Bengal write that these statements suggest that Netanyahu "realizes that a Palestinian state will be established, and that the disagreement between himself and President Barack Obama concerns the character of that state. In other words, Netanyahu is willing to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in the final status arrangement, but with reservations."


Some unlikely allies in Netanyahu's cabinet are pushing for Israel to embrace the Road Map, which explicitly sets the two-state solution as its goal, but it is not clear that they are doing so in order to promote peace. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are reportedly pressing for the Cabinet to re-ratify the peace plan because it defers final-status talks to a later stage.


Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni slammed the proposal as a dangerous stalling tactic. "According to the [Road Map] plan, a final-status agreement will only be reached in its third stage; as such, there will be an excuse not to talk. Refraining from talking will bring us to a situation in which we won't have a [Palestinian] partner for talks," Livni told Israel Army Radio.


Some Likud Knesset members are organizing a conference today to demonstrate opposition to the two-state framework. "The goal is to send Obama a clear message," explained Knesset Member Tzipi Hotovely. "The people said no to the two-state concept and gave its trust to Netanyahu to lead us down an alternative path," she added. Fellow Likud parliamentarian Danny Danon was more blunt: "We need to come out of the closet and say that we are proud to be anti-Palestinian state." (Ma'ariv, 5/24, 5/25 & 5/26/09 ; Jerusalem Post, 5/21/09 ; Haaretz, 5/26/09 )


GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT OUTPOSTS? Israeli security forces demolished seven tin structures at a minor settlement outpost called Maoz Esther on Thursday. Three of the buildings were inhabited. The law-enforcement measure took place just days after President Barack Obama told visiting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that settlements must stop.


Maoz Esther is one of about 100 settlement sites established in violation of Israeli law and is described in Israeli government documents as "the only outpost established in 2008."


Outpost resident Yonatan Rahamim told Ma'ariv that "they came with a lot of forces, bulldozers, a whole bunch of policemen and soldiers. They offered to let us to leave the synagogue of our own free will, and we refused of course. They removed the Torah scrolls, and then the bulldozer demolished house after house. We were only seven people and there was no possibility of resisting. Two went on the roof of one of the buildings but were removed without any difficulty."


Israeli law enforcement agents have previously demolished the buildings at Maoz Esther, but each time the settlers returned and reconstructed the outpost. Indeed, within hours of Thursday's action settlers had rebuilt two buildings. "We hope to sleep here tonight and we hope, with God's help, to rebuild it, not like before but bigger," Maoz Esther resident Avraham Sandak told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday.


Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer played down the importance of this evacuation, calling it a "public relations exercise" as Maoz Esther was merely a "puny outpost. not real, but abandoned."


"To make a true change, real outposts should be taken care of," Oppenheimer added.


This sentiment was echoed by Haaretz columnist Amos Harel, who wrote Friday that "Neither the aggressive statements made by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in support of evacuating West Bank outposts, his growing agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the need to evacuate some of the illegal Jewish settlements, nor the evacuation of the Maoz Ester outpost yesterday necessarily point to a fundamental change in the government's policy on the matter."


" Israel has been promising the United States that it will evacuate the outposts for at least six years, ever since the Road Map plan was introduced in 2003," Harel continued. "Occasionally, it actually makes good on this."


"Barak, in particular" Harel noted, "stresses how the continued existence of outposts undermines the rule of law. Many of the outposts are built on Palestinian land and require the state to act. But Barak has made such statements for almost two years. In order to carry out a substantial evacuation of outposts, authorities must draw up a detailed plan involving not only police officers but also hundreds of soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces. At the same time, Jewish settlers are expanding outposts and taking over more land."


Peace Now reported on the expansion of two other settlement outposts last week. (Ynet, 5/19/09 ; Jerusalem Post, 5/21/09 ; Ma'ariv, 5/22/09 ; Haaretz, 5/22/09 )


GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT OUTPOSTS? PART II: Sunday's editorial in Haaretz praised President Barack Obama's strong message on settlements: "Three days after U.S. President Barack Obama used his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly and assertively demand that Israel halt settlement expansion, Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with the Yesha Council of settlements and told them of his intention to remove the outposts. The next day, the Israel Defense Forces evacuated the outpost of Maoz Esther, which was established on private Palestinian land many months ago and had previously been evacuated twice in the past year. A short while later the settlers reentered the area for the fourth time."


The editorial noted that settlers "have stepped up their pace of taking over agricultural land near the outposts and have energetically plowed new roads to the sites. Despite the past three Israeli governments' repeated promises - since the road map of April 2003 - to tear down the outposts, the area the outposts cover has expanded and the number of residents has risen. Netanyahu's government, like the two that preceded it, claims that the outposts, mostly those on private land, violate the rule of law and require an appropriate response by the authorities. The defense minister, who has authority over the occupied territories, must explain to the Israelis and Palestinians why it is that instead of immediately enforcing the law against violators, he has carried out pointless negotiations with their representatives for years over `consensual evacuation.'"


"An administration that puts the solution of two states for two peoples at the top of its agenda," concludes Haaretz, "cannot ignore the efforts by one side to create facts on the ground that blatantly undermine such a solution. Hopefully, the strong statements by President Obama suggest that unlike his predecessors, the new administration will not accept anything less than the evacuation of all outposts and a complete freeze on settlements."  (Haaretz, 5/24/09 )


GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT OUTPOSTS? PART III: An arm of Israel 's Defense Ministry started delivering delimiting orders to ten settlement outposts in the West Bank this week. Israeli law requires such orders before the outposts can be cleared.


This is said to be part of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision to evacuate 22 settlement outposts. It is unclear, though, whether Israel will take meaningful action against the outposts or whether negotiations with the settlers will delay law enforcement measures.


A senior political official told Yedioth Ahronoth that "the goal is to reach a consensual solution. Netanyahu has already said in the past that the issue is primarily legal, and that the route that Barak has taken to solve this problem-dialogue-is the correct route. Any agreement that is reached between the defense minister and the settlers regarding the future of the outposts will be acceptable to Netanyahu."


As to the forcible evacuation of settlement outposts if necessary, the source said: "We still haven't reached that stage and we hope to reach understandings." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 5/24/09 ;, 5/25/09 ; Israel Hayom, 5/26/09 )


SETTLERS PLAN A WAR OF ATTRITION: "The construction of new outposts, a personal campaign directed against Netanyahu, a legal battle and pressure to be applied on the attorney general - these, among others, are the steps being planned at this time by certain right wing groups in order to resist the government's plans to evacuate outposts in Judea and Samaria," reports Roi Sharon in Ma'ariv.


Sharon reports on a document being circulated among settler activists that lays out courses of action that settlers can take to respond to Israeli law-enforcement. One plan, dubbed "operation doubling," seeks to take advantage of the limited manpower of the Israeli police and military. The document states: "our ability to cause embarrassment to the defense minister is far greater than any of his abilities, and see for yourself the photos from Maoz Ester and the fact that several hours after the evacuation some of the building were already standing again. A group of a few kids can put up an outpost." 


"It is this kind of war of attrition," writes Sharon , "which obliges security forces to constantly rush from one point to another, that those who drafted the document hope to restart, the goal being to sabotage the security establishment's plans."


Israel Radio reported Monday that settlers are pre-positioning raw materials and construction equipment at various locations in the West Bank so that outposts can be quickly rebuilt.


Some settlers are not waiting for more demolitions. Settler activist Daniela Weiss said Sunday that new outposts will be established in the coming days: "We are talking about a few new spots in Samaria , with plans also to renew the settlement in Gaza ." Ma'ariv reported this morning that Noam Federman - a settler with a history of violence - has returned to an outpost evacuated seven months ago.


Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Army Radio that "there is no doubt that the illegal outposts do us tremendous damage and therefore, it is in the State of Israel's best interests that they no longer be there."  (Ma'ariv, 5/25 & 5/26/09 ; Israel Radio, 5/25/09 ; Israel Army Radio, 5/24/09 )


FEARING IRAN , BACKING DIPLOMACY: While most Israelis do not believe that engagement will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, almost half of them - 49% - support the use of diplomacy before alternatives are pursued, according to a new poll of Israeli public opinion commissioned by the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University .


The poll also found that 23% of Israelis would consider leaving Israel if Iran developed a nuclear bomb.


"The findings are worrying because they reflect an exaggerated and unnecessary fear," Prof. David Menashri, who heads the academic center, said. " Iran 's leadership is religiously extremist but calculated and it understands an unconventional attack on Israel is an act of madness that will destroy Iran . Sadly, the survey shows the Iranian threat works well even without a bomb and thousands of Israelis [already] live in fear and contemplate leaving the country."  ( Tel Aviv University , 5/24/09 ; Haaretz, 5/22/09 )


HELPING SETTLERS OUT: Labor Knesset Members Yuli Tamir and Ophir Pines are introducing legislation that provides settlers who choose to return to Israel with compensation based on the criteria that applied to settlers in Gaza during the 2005 Israeli withdrawal.


The bill requires Israel to offer the ex-settlers suitable housing within Israel, in return for which the state will be awarded legal possession of the settlement homes but will not make use of them. Further, the draft legislation sets a penalty of two years imprisonment for intruders who enter the evacuated homes.


"The bill's provisions underline the fact that, if we are indeed pursuing a peace agreement, we must act accordingly. Those who vote against the bill will have to spell out their parties' readiness for future agreements with the Palestinians," Tamir said on Sunday.


"The bill sends a message to the world about Israel 's readiness to renew the peace process and it addresses the needs of the country without endangering its existence," Pines told Haaretz. (Haaretz, 5/25/09 )