Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kadima Means Nothing — Ariel Is Worse

The break-up of Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz’s marriage of convenience bears no significance for the future of the peace process. The partnership between Likud and Kadima was never a serious endeavour to begin with, in spite of much talk about reforming the electoral process, introducing a universal draft, and even kick-starting the moribund talks between Netanyahu and Abbas. Rather, the deal was made entirely out of necessity: for Mofaz to elongate the life of his sham of a party, a project he has now surely annulled; for Netanyahu to continue his principal policy of inactivity on all fronts, under the auspices of national unity.

Far more noteworthy, at least when it comes to the hope that, someday, a democratic, Jewish state might reside with a democratic, Palestinian state in a condition of perpetual if uneasy peace, is the decision by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education (JSCHE) to recognise the Ariel University Center as a full-fledged university. In doing so, the JSCHE have gone over the heads of the Council for Higher Education which recommended against recognition, thereby establishing Israel’s first university beyond the Green Line in the occupied territories.

But, as Liel Leibovitz notes in Tablet, the word of the council is essentially meaningless when it comes to the occupied territories:

Because Israeli law doesn’t apply in the West Bank…all civilian affairs in the region are overseen by the Israel Defence Forces. In 1997, after the council refused to supervise a number of nascent Jewish academic institutions established east of the Green Line, a new body was formed, called the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria (CHEJS). Its members are appointed by the army.

And, that this university has been established in Ariel only augments the controversy, given the settlement’s position in the West Bank. Ariel competes with Ma’ale Adumim for the indignity of being the most controversial settlement in all of the West Bank, principally due to its size – a city of some 17,700 people – and its location, some 13km west of the Green Line, north of Ramallah and southwest of Nablus. Netanyahu has previously referred to Ariel as a suburb of Tel Aviv, “the heart of Israel”, and “an integral, inseparable part of the state of Israel in any future arrangement”. Yet having the borders of any prospective Israeli state swoop around the settlement would create a lengthy talon of land that not would only threaten the contiguity of a Palestinian state, but would be indefensible and vulnerable to enemy assault.

The decision by the JSCHE is a far more dangerous and destructive event than the slipping away of Shaul Mofaz and his gang of status quo politicians into the political night. Because, much like the Levy Report, its acceptance beyond those who have a vested interest in its continuation represents a normalisation of perpetual occupation or eventual annexation, either of which would end finally and irreversibly the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Read my lips: no new settlements

And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.” - - Exodus 24:31.

If Israel does not continue the settlement freeze, the peace process will be a waste of time.” - - Mahmoud Abbas.

Yet the moratorium is due to lapse, and construction has resumed in earnest. Cement began to pour into the scarred earth shortly before the deadline passed, in spite of limp calls on the part of the Prime Minister to ‘show restraint’. The future of the peace process – one that looks as promising as any undertaken since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin - now hangs in the balance.

Alarmingly, such a pattern of behaviour is not unique to this particular round of talks. President Carter had hoped to agree a pause in settlement construction on the West Bank during negotiations for the landmark Camp David Accords. Contemporaneous Foreign Office memoranda reveal however that Prime Minister Menachem Begin informed his Likud Party that, just weeks after the agreement of the concord, Israel was to begin immediately “a programme of expansion and consolidation of existing settlements in the West Bank”, including an “additional 500 families” settled at Ariel.

Carter sent private messages to Begin that hit the Israelis “very very hard indeed”, and which were in the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski “very very clear”. But Moshe Dayan insisted that “the decision to build additional houses in the settlements was not contrary to the Camp David Agreement”, and as is evident by the sizeable estates which dot the hills west of the Jordan today, construction restarted and still persists.

I have been to Israel, and I have seen the Promised Land. The Jewish people have, in the space of sixty years, managed to construct for themselves the most remarkable and dynamic state, which has embraced not only the free market but liberal and open democratic values. Yet religious extremism, now in governance with Yisrael Beitenu and Shas members of the ruling coalition, blights Israel’s credibility on the international stage as a pluralistic and humanitarian state.

If Israel is to live up to the ideals it seeks to embody, then it can no longer continue with the erection of tenements on the West Bank, this gross injustice toward the Palestinian people. The construction of settlements, on land that the ultra-Orthodox deem part of Eretz Yisrael, is part of a silly, superstitious and ultimately apocalyptically dangerous plot to bring on the Messiah and marginalise or better yet rid the Holy Lands of infidelic influences. Religion is poisoning everything.

The amoral policy also makes the chances of peace in the region all the more slimmer. The Palestinian people require a state, but as settlers colonise more territory recognised to be theirs, dividing and reapportioning the land becomes more and more difficult. The boundaries between the State of Israel and the future Arab state, already blurred and muddled by the Security Barrier, are rendered intangible by settlements built deep into Judea and Samaria.

A recent and noble campaign by Israeli actors, who refused to play in a newly-built state theatre in Ariel on the West Bank, offers hope, that there are in fact dissenting voices within the State brave enough to speak out against the rising tide of Orthodox influence in government. Israeli novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman have risen in solidarity, alongside American artists such as Julianne Moore and Stephen Sondheim.

For the sake of peace as a Friend I too appeal, that the moratorium must hold, and this policy must cease. Read my lips, Mr. Netanyahu: no new settlements on Palestinian land.