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Debunking Netanyahu's Statements on Settlements

Last week, my colleague Lara Friedman of APN and Peace Now's Settlement Watch Director Hagit Ofran published an excellent report debunking the common (bogus) arguments made by those who oppose a West Bank settlements freeze.

Following is an article by Talia Sasson, the author of the famous Sasson Report, pointing out the hollowness of Netanyahu's statements in his Bar Illan speech on settlements. Her article is published in today's Yedioth Ahronoth.

Together - perhaps with the addition of Dan Kurtzer recent Washington Post article debunking Netanyahu's contention that there are Israeli-American understandings about continued West Bank settlement construction - these pieces serve to solidify the Obama administration's justified, uncompromising demand for a comprehensive settlement freeze.

Three Winks

by Talia Sasson

Attorney Talia Sasson filed the settlement outpost report to the Sharon government [and is now a Meretz member]

Netanyahu mentioned three points in the Bar Ilan speech with regard to the continuation of construction in the settlements: There will be no confiscations of private Palestinian land; no new Israeli settlements will be established in the West Bank; the needs of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank must be met.  What do these statements mean?

Back in 1979, the Israeli government determined that Israel settlement in Judea and Samaria would only be done on what is known as "state land."  This is not the place to explain what state land is, but it can certainly be determined what it is not.  It is not land privately owned by Palestinians.

Netanyahu committed himself to act according to the legal situation that obligates him in any case.  In practice, in the past 20 years, dozens of new settlements have been founded in the territories, which are known as settlement outposts, and new neighborhoods have also been established next to veteran settlements.  And wonder of wonders, some of them are located on private Palestinian land.  The requisite conclusion is that despite the fact that this is a forbidden act, it does not mean that it is not done in practice.  A commitment, then, is no guarantee that something will not be done.

Netanyahu's second commitment, that no new settlements would be established in the West Bank, is also not an innovation.  In the past 20 years, the government has not decided on establishing a new settlement.  In practice, dozens of these have been established.  The method was exposed in the settlement outpost report submitted to the government in March 2005: A new settlement is established that is several hundred meters or more away from a veteran settlement, it is called a new "neighborhood" of the veteran settlement, and here we have a new settlement in the guise of a legal "neighborhood," and it is not necessary for the government to decide on establishing a new settlement.

Moreover, for political reasons, in order to achieve control over more territory, the municipal boundaries of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank were expanded tenfold in 1996.  This created a situation in which a small settlement with a population of several dozen settlers controls a jurisdiction similar to that of the city Kfar Saba.  A new "neighborhood" that is established within its area will, in practice, be a new settlement.  Therefore, the commitment that no new settlements would be established has nothing to do with halting construction on the ground and the establishment of new settlements de facto.

And what are the needs of the settlers that cannot be ignored?  This is subject to interpretation.  But those who seek to freeze construction may be tempted to propose to apply to the settlers the resolution of the Rabin government regarding a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria--resolution 360 from 1992.

But if one looks at this resolution, one finds that it actually permitted construction: "Private construction for residential purposes will be permitted within the boundaries of existing Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, according to a valid and authorized plan, and without government funding."  This means that construction that is subject to a valid and authorized plan, which is within the municipal boundaries of the settlement, is permissible, if the construction meets the other conditions of this clause.

Since at the time resolution 360 was passed, the municipal boundaries of the settlements had not been expanded in their present form, and the method of establishing the settlement outposts (the "neighborhood" method) had not yet been developed, the application of resolution 360 in today's situation would mean an extensive permit for construction in Judea and Samaria.

The meaning of Netanyahu's statements regarding the continuation of Israeli construction in the territories, within the foreign policy worldview that he presented in his speech, is the continuation of construction as it is being done today, and perhaps with greater vigor.  Incidentally, the words "settlement outposts" were not mentioned in the speech at all, and for good reason.  Indeed, part of the right wing remained silent after the speech, and the other part did not conceal its joy.  They were right to do so.  They understood exactly what the prime minister was telling them.