Israel’s unsettlement policy

AS ISRAEL prepares to evacuate the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements in the coming months, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces strong opposition at home, including threats of terror by Jewish extremists aiming to disrupt the evacuation.

By Claude Salhani

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Published: Wed 13 Apr 2005, 10:24 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:10 PM

Sharon was hoping his meeting with President Bush at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas on Monday, would give him additional political support. Instead, Bush talked tough strongly cautioning the Israeli prime minister against any settlement expansions.

"I told the prime minister not to undertake any activity that contravenes the Road Map or prejudices final status obligations," Bush told Sharon, reminding the Israeli prime minister that the Middle East road map calls for Israel to remove unauthorised settlements in the Palestinian territories.

The road map prohibits the creation of any new settlements as well as the expansion of existing ones including on the grounds of "natural growth."

Sharon assured Bush: "I will fulfil my commitment to you, Mr President, to remove unauthorised outposts. As to settlements, Israel will meet all its obligations under the road map."

But plans for expanding the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim by some 3,500 apartments, which would link it with Jerusalem are likely to proceed, despite international criticism. Sharon sees this move as extending a carrot to those opposed to evacuating Gaza.

But if Israel was to proceed with the development, known as E-1, it could seriously affect the future of the peace process. Additionally, there are also real fears of potential terrorist attacks by Jewish extremists on the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in the occupied Jerusalem in order to disrupt the withdrawal.

Such attack would have a devastating effect on the peace process, setting it back and reviving the risk of all-out violence. An attack on the Muslim holy sites could trigger a Third Intifada, one that would be far bloodier and more harmful to all sides in the conflict. There would be no winners in the next round of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Already, Palestinian resistance groups have threatened to end the ceasefire with Israel if Al-Aqsa Mosque — Islam’s third holiest Mosque — is attacked.

Indeed, the forced removal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip is likely to test the Jewish state’s strength, resolve and unity as opponents of evacuating the occupied Palestinian territory are not about to make this an easy choice for Prime Minister Sharon’s government.

Several rabbis, right-wing groups and settlers are calling on Israeli security forces to refuse orders asking them to evict the settlers.

The Union of Rabbis for the People of Israel and the Land of Israel issued a statement last week asking "Tens of thousands of people to prepare" for a call up "to be with our brethren," in support of the settlers in Gaza who refuse to leave.

"It will not be easy," said Ehud Olmert, Israel’s deputy prime minister during a telephone conference last week, referring to the planned pullout. "It will be difficult," said Olmert, "it will be heartbreaking." In fact, what was not easy was maintaining and securing those settlements to begin with. Several thousands of Israeli soldiers were required to ensure the security of about 7,500 settlers.

Israel now plans to begin evacuating the Strip on July 20. The risk of violence from those opposed to the evacuation plan exists, said Olmert. "The danger is there. We hope it will be prevented."

"One must not help evacuate settlements in the land of Israel and give them to foreigners. This contradicts the Halacha (Jewish law), the Torah, ethics, and God forbid, one must not be partner to a transgression," declared former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Avraham Shapiro last week.

Olmert’s response is that "Gaza was never part of historic Israel. "I don’t remember that Gaza was part of Israel. I don’t remember praying for Gaza," said Olmert. Olmert, who spoke prior to Sharon’s visit to the US, said giving up the settlements was a necessity to achieve peace with the Palestinians. "We trust the good will of Abu Mazen," said Olmert, referring to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by his more familiar name. "He (Abbas) wants to make peace. There is no reason to doubt him."

Olmert admits that the Sharon government is taking a political gamble in applying such controversial policies as the withdrawal. "We have stuck our necks out politically, now is the time for the Palestinians to take risks," said Olmert.

But the risk the Palestinians fear most is that the Israeli evacuation from Gaza will not lead "Gaza First," but "Gaza only," and to a dead end in the Middle East Road Map.

In any case, Abu Mazen is sure to have his work cut out for him when he visits the US to meet with Bush possibly during the third week in April, according to sources in the Palestinian Authority.

Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington

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