Paves Way For Further West Bank Land Grab
By Jean Shaoul
11 September 2005
had the last of the 8,000 or so Israeli settlers left Gaza than Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon announced that Israel would expand the settlements
on the West Bank.
disengagement from Gazathe closure and demolition of the
14 settlements and the dismantling of military installations securing
themtogether with the removal of four small settlements in the
West Bank were hailed as an act of courage on Sharons part by
the imperialist powers.
press has re-branded a proven war criminal as a peacemaker
and lauded the pullout as an important first step towards alleviating
the suffering of the Palestinian people, normalising relations between
Israel and Palestine, and creating an independent Palestinian state.
These claims have
been lent a certain credence by the fierce opposition Sharons
moves aroused amongst the far-right settler and religious parties, and
even within Sharons own Likud partyforces which view the
surrender of a single inch to the Palestinians as a betrayal. Sharon
has also benefited from the support of the Labour Party, which has also
portrayed his initiative as a step towards a two-states
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But the withdrawal
from Gaza is nothing more than a smokescreen to mask Israels consolidation
of a far more significant land grab of the West Bank, land it has brutally
occupied for nearly 40 years in breach of international law and in defiance
of countless United Nations resolutions.
What do these latest
developments mean for the Palestinians? Despite the reams that have
been written by the 6,000 media journalists and their support staff
that came to cover the Israels disengagement from Gazanearly
as many as the Israeli settlers in Gazafew have even attempted
to address this question. Most coverage has been made up of sympathetic
accounts of the plight of the settlers, generally couched in terms either
favourable to Sharon or critical of him from the right.
Yet anyone who looked
at the context in which the pullout took place would see it as only
a stage in a long-standing effort on Sharons part to establish
a Greater Israel by permanently annexing the large majority of the land
seized in the 1967 war.
Already there has
been a massive expansion in the number of Israeli settlers in the West
Bank and East Jerusalem, where 2.3 million Palestinians live. This is
now set to increase. The number of settlers in the West Bank has grown
from zero in 1967 to about 246,000 in June 2005an increase of
more than 12,000 (5 percent) in the last year alone. They now form more
than 10 percent of the population, but control a far greater percentage
of the land, including that which is most fertile and productive.
The number of settlers
in East Jerusalem, which Israel formally annexed into West Jerusalem
in 1980 and which it routinely excludes from its statistics, has risen
from zero in 1967 to 210,000. Together with the quarter of a million
settlers in the West Bank, they now form one fifth of the population
that lived in what was Jordan in 1967.
These figures have
now been boosted by many of the 8,140 settlers displaced from Gaza,
who have moved into settlements in and around Jerusalem and Hebron,
as well as Ariel in the north of the West Bank.
In addition to the
323 official settlementsthat are really heavily guarded colonies
from which Palestinians are excludedthere are at least 150 hilltop
communities that have incomplete or nonexistent permits, and are therefore
illegal even under Israeli law.
The vast majority
of the Israeli population oppose the outposts. They have nevertheless
been built with tax payers money and officially sanctioned and
encouraged by the state. According to an official Israel government
report published last March, government departments and agencies secretly
diverted millions of dollars from their budgets to support these illegal
outposts. To cite but a few examples:
* The housing ministry
supplied 400 mobile homes for outposts on private Palestinian land.
* The defence ministry
approved the use of trailers to begin the new outposts.
* The education
ministry paid for nurseries and teachers.
* The energy ministry
connected the outposts to the electricity grid.
* Roads to the outposts
were paid for out of public monies.
The total number
of such outposts is uncertain since some public agencies refused to
hand over important documents to the investigation.
It was Sharon who,
as foreign minister in 1998, publicly called for the settlers to seize
the hilltops and establish outposts in order to break up the contiguity
of Palestinian areas and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian
state. He said, Let everyone get a move on and take some hilltops!
Whatever we take will be ours and whatever we dont take will not
Israel has also
seized land that it has designated as military areas or nature reserves.
And it has seized vast tracts of land to build a network of highwaysthe
so-called bypass roadsto connect the settlements, and cleared
swathes of valuable agricultural land and villages on either side to
prevent ambushes. Not only are the roads controlled by the Israeli armed
forces, but they are also closed to the Palestinians who must make do
with ill-paved roads that are subject to hundreds of military checkpoints
that make personal mobility all but impossible. The journey from Ramallah
to Jerusalem that once took 15 minutes now takes hours, if it can be
completed at all.
The highways thus
serve to cut off adjacent Palestinian areas from one another, creating
discontinuities of territory and jurisdiction and dividing up the West
Bank into isolated parcels of land that Israel can easily control. They
constitute a constant reminder of the ever-expanding Israeli settlements.
Israel has also
expanded the borders of Jerusalem to encompass not only the Old City
and East Jerusalem, but the surrounding land in the West Bank upon which
it has built a number of settlements. This has encircled East Jerusalem
and cut it off from its immediate hinterland. Once completed, 160,000
Palestinian inhabitants will be permanently cut off from the rest of
the West Bank. It is already almost impossible for West Bank Palestinians
to enter Jerusalemthe social, cultural, and intellectual heart
of the West Bankto visit their families or access health care
or the other amenities of the city. The clear intention is to drive
them from their homes and carry out a final ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem
The largest of the
settlements that will be joined to East Jerusalemand the farthest
point cutting into the West Bank is Maale Adumim. It is here that
the Sharon government has announced plans to build another 3,500 homes
and new suburbs linking Maale Adumim with Jerusalem. It will occupy
100 square kilometres of land, 35 kilometres deep into the West Bank
and with a width of 15-25 kilometres.
Not only is Maale
Adumim a dormitory suburb for Jerusalem, its expansion will also all
but bisect the West Bank, making it impossible to travel between the
northern and southern sectors. Without territorial contiguity between
the northern and southern West Bank, not only is the establishment of
a viable Palestinian state impossible, but so too is any pretence of
The West Bank will
be nothing more than a series of non-contiguous and impoverished ghettos,
separated from Israel and hemmed in behind the infamous and illegal
360 kilometre-long Security Wall. This also serves as a mechanism for
increasing Israels encroachment into the West Bank, cutting off
families from each other, their schools, places of work and vital welfare
of the West Bank is mirrored by the separation of the West Bank and
Gaza. Travel between the two parts of the Palestinian Authority (PA)
is subject to Israeli control and is all but impossible for even the
most senior PA officials.
While Israeli security
forces will have completed the dismantling of their military installations
in the Gaza Strip by the middle of September, this will not make it
a sovereign entity in any practical sense. Without handing over Gazas
border crossings, including the international border crossing with Egypt,
Gazas territorial waters, air space, water supply, and providing
a safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, in accordance with international
law, Israel remains the occupying power.
The future for the
Palestinians in Gaza is grim indeed. Cut off from Israel where many
of them once worked, and without direct access to the rest of the world
independently of Israel, their agricultural and manufactured goods now
face tariff barriers as well as delays on entering Israel, making them
Far from seeing
any alleviation of their appalling economic and social conditions, Gaza
will be nothing more than a giant holding pen for 1.2 million impoverished
Palestinians totally dependent on world aid for their very survival,
as a recent World Bank report has acknowledged.
Should violent opposition
to Israel break out again, Sharon will simply send the tanks and helicopter
gunships unencumbered by the need to protect the settlers. As the disengagement
plan spells out, Israel reserves the right to use military force both
preventative and reactive against attacks from Gaza.
Gaza was simply
the pawn that Sharon was prepared to sacrifice in order to gain the
bigger prizeUS support for holding onto and expanding the Zionist
settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. President George W.
Bush has said that a permanent peace agreement would have to reflect
the demographic realities in the West Bank, meaning the
Washington is well
aware of Sharons real intentions. Just last week, in an interview
with an ultra-orthodox newspaper, Sharon explained, The Americans
have often asked us to sketch out the boundaries of the large settlement
blocs in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and we have always refrained
from doing so in the hope that by the time the discussion on the settlement
blocs comes, these blocs will contain a very large number of settlements
The US plays along
with Sharons pretence of support for the eventual creation of
a Palestinian state as envisioned by Bushs Road Map
because it is a convenient fiction in its dealings with the Arab regimes
in the Middle East. In reality, the neo-cons that dominate the Bush
administration are the most fervent supporters of the creation of a
Greater Israel and the confining of the Palestinians to a series of
isolated ghettos making up less than 20 percent of the West Bank, and
the Gaza Strip itself.
An excellent series
of maps of the West Bank and Gaza have been produced by the BBC. They
make clear how Israeli settlements, the incorporation of East Jerusalem,
a massive number of armed check-points and roads render impossible the
creation of an economically viable, defensible and territorially contiguous