II. Seeking Peace Bulletin
May 10, 2002
Special Focus: Settlements
Everyone Has an Opinion About Settlements
A number of leading Israeli and American officials have made recent statements on the topic of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Taking a hard-line approach to the issue, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made the following statement in a cabinet meeting: "Until the November 2003 elections, there will be no talk of evacuating any settlements."
A number of Labor party members to the national unity government were angered by Sharon’s stance. Member of Knesset Haim Ramon said, "The significance [of non-evacuation] is that we will continue to sacrifice the security of the overwhelming majority of the residents of the State of Israel on the altar of the settlements."
Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin Pelossof believed that this was tantamount to forcing Labor out of the government, stating "If he [Sharon] does indeed insist on this, then I think he is showing us the door."
Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer and head of the Labor Party responded to Sharon’s statements by saying, "despite the statement by the prime minister, in the long run there will be no alternative but to evacuate settlements for the sake of a lasting peace." (Ma’ariv and Israel Radio, 4/22/02)
What do the Americans Have to Say About All This?
Secretary of State Powell made a few comments about the settlements as he did the round of Sunday morning talk shows last week. He was quoted on Meet the Press with the following: ‘I think it’s clear that something has to be done about the problem of the settlements. The settlements continue to grow; they continue to expand. And as the President said in his speech on the 4th of April, where he laid out his vision of a Palestinian state, he made the case in that speech that something would have to be done about the settlements." (Meet the Press, 5/5/02)
What does the Israeli Public Think?
Judging by recent polls, the Israeli public is evenly split on the issue of settlements. In a recent pubic opinion poll released on Friday, April 26, Israelis were asked the following: "Some people claim that the settlements contribute to Israel’s security, while others believe that they are a burden to security. With which of these two positions do you agree more?" 47% believed they pose a security burden, 43% believe they contribute to security and 10% don’t know.
When asked whether they support PM Sharon’s position that the government will not discuss the possibility of dismantling settlements until the end of his term, 51% were supportive of his position, 44% were opposed to it, and 5% weren’t sure.
Settlements Continue to Grow
Although the Israeli government accepted a settlement freeze, as outlined in the Mitchell Committee Report, settlements are on the rise in the West Bank. The largest building project in the West Bank has begun, which will connect the two settlements of Elkana and Shaarei Tikva. The project has been divided into two stages; the first stage will include 130 plots for private construction and villas, the second stage will involve the construction of apartment buildings that will hold 350 apartments.
Growth is also continuing in Hebron and Ma’aleh Adumim. New apartments are being prepared in the Jewish settlement that lives in the midst of the Hebron market. Five apartments are currently ready for new residents. Permission was given for the construction of 31 new housing units in Ma’aleh Adumim. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 4/24/02 & Ha’aretz, 4/25/02)
Government Budget Favors Settlement Growth
The national budget for 2002 highlights the special priority settlements are given in determining budget allocations. $64 million will be spent on encouraging homebuyers to settle in the West Bank and Gaza, through grants and loans. Families are eligible for grants up to $20,000 and loans of $8,000. The Ministry of Religious Affairs was given $11 million for synagogue construction in the settlements. The 2002 budget also contained allocations of $32 million towards the construction of bypass roads for Jewish settlers. (Foundation for Middle East Peace Report, March-April 2002)
We encourage you to read Joseph (Yossi) Alpher’s essay “Settlements and Borders in Israeli-Palestinian Relations,” Issue II in the series Expanding the Conversation. To download the essay, please log on to http://www.seekpeace.org/settlement.pdf or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to mail you a copy.