Border Control / Next stop, Ramallah
The West Bank not only provides housing solutions for Jerusalemites who cannot afford to buy a house with a garden in one of the city's veteran neighborhoods. It also cuts their travel time from the coastal plain. First, Route 443 was paved for them, part of which (approximately 10 kilometers) runs through public and private Palestinian lands. Now it turns out that the route of the new rail line between the capital and Tel Aviv also crosses over the Green Line. The sections involved include only a few hundred meters in the area east of Latrun and a small area near Mevasseret Zion. But even the laws of the jungle that apply in the territories do not allow for the appropriation of lands for public uses unless the entire public - regardless of religion, race or nationality - will benefit from the fruits of the appropriation. Otherwise, the High Court of Justice is likely to do to the route of the rail line what it has already done several times to the route of the separation fence. In fact, the first ruling against the route of the fence affected the Beit Furiq section, not far from the route of the rail line.
Rail engineers and legal advisers from the Defense Ministry deliberated the matter at length. How is it possible to argue that the rail line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will also serve residents of the territories? The magic formula was found somewhere in the office of the coordinator of government activities in the territories. The plan submitted over three years ago to the planning authorities had another station added to it - in Ramallah. The rail line between two Israeli cities would have a spur leading to the Palestinian city. The only thing left to do now is link Ramallah to Damascus and then we will have an international railroad network.
In the case of Route 443, the High Court of Justice made do with the state's commitment that the road would also serve the Palestinian appellants. Excuse me, primarily the appellants. Since the outbreak of the intifada eight years ago, however, Route 443 has been open to everyone - everyone but Palestinians, including the owners of the appropriated lands. The High Court of Justice is to decide whether the "security considerations" presented by the State Prosecutor's Office justify the ongoing discrimination.
It will be interesting to see how the judges will view the Ramallah station, when they are confronted with a petition against the route of the rail line.
The Civil Administration's response: "Two segments of the planned rail line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem pass through the area of Judea and Samaria. These segments were approved by the authorized planning bodies, after hearing the public's objections, and in addition, received the Ministry of Justice's approval. The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem rail project was approved as part of the regional rail network for Israel and Judea and Samaria, which according to the future plans will also include a link between major cities in Judea and Samaria and the rail network, this in accordance with the security and diplomatic situation. The planned rail line in the Judea and Samaria area runs for the most part through a tunnel and over a bridge, so the damage to lands as a result of the construction of the route is minimal."
In normal times, when the prime minister is not spending his Fridays in the company of police investigators, the reports published last Friday in the London-based Asharq Al Awsat and in the Jerusalem-based Al Quds would have caused a storm. According to the protocols of the last meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which were published in both papers, the U.S. adopted most of the Palestinians' positions regarding an Israeli-Palestinian final-status arrangement. In the meeting, which took place in Ramallah two weeks ago, Rice backed Abbas' positions on most of the core issues.
According to the protocols, the Palestinian state would be established, "if not on all the territories occupied in 1967, then on most of them"; any territorial changes would be subject to territorial exchanges; discussions on East Jerusalem would be conducted based on the assumption that it is part of the occupied territories, "while leaving the door open to an understanding in the matter of the holy sites"; the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and the Israelis would have no Israeli military presence in it. Not even in the Jordan Valley.
Olmert's situation is not the only explanation for the fact that these reports were received with big yawns in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Even West Bank residents did not bother to react to Rice's declaration at the end of her meeting with Abu Mazen that "the settlements harm the atmosphere in which the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should be taking place." Has anyone heard lately about Migron? Has anyone seen what is happening in the other outposts that appear on the list that Israel promised to the Americans, more than five years ago, that it would evacuate immediately? The Road Map, does anyone remember that?
The Americans also say one thing and do something else when it comes to money. A report published by Reuters correspondent Adam Entous on August 25 reveals that there are 13 organizations operating in the U.S. that openly collect money for the settlements. Over the last five years, these organizations have raised over $35 million. Because the contributions to these organizations are considered tax-exempt, it turns out that the taxpayer, i.e., the American administration, is aiding the settlements.
Contributions to the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization, for example, which promotes immigration from North America, are tax exempt in the U.S. and in Israel. The organization, which receives assistance from the Ministry of Absorption (NIS 12.5 million in the 2008 budget), does not actually direct immigrants to settlements. They are hidden on a list of "communities throughout Israel that may be appropriate destinations for North American olim" that appears in a Nefesh B'Nefesh brochure handed out to potential immigrants and featured on its Web site. The list includes 46 communities all over Israel - the Greater Land of Israel. Nearly a third of them (15) are over the Green Line, a few are well to the east of the security fence. The list mentions the option of buying a prefab house in the Givat Hahish outpost, adjacent to Alon Shvut (in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem).
Two days ago, in the cabinet discussion on the evacuation-compensation law, Olmert said, "in light of the fact that it is possible that in the future we will have to make decisions that will entail the evacuation of residents, it is only fitting that we prepare for this starting now and consider its meanings, especially given that serious negotiations are under way." Yesterday Olmert welcomed dozens of young immigrants brought here by Nefesh B'Nefesh. The American chairman of the organization, Tony Gelbart, says the best proof that he and his colleagues are not encouraging people to move to settlements is the fact that so far only three percent of immigrants they have brought here chose to move to the territories. The organization's Israeli chairman, Danny Ayalon, who joined Yisrael Beiteinu, which is headed by Avigdor Lieberman, can serve as proof that the organization's leadership includes people who have no problem with living in communities in Judea and Samaria. Ayalon's extremist declarations did not please his colleagues in Nefesh B'Nefesh, who are striving to keep away from politics. It seems that he will not last long at the organization.
The Ministry of Absorption comments: Ending support for an organization that presents immigrants with living options in a given place or another may be found to damage the principle of equality. Therefore, the ministry is not interested in barring support for an organization that advertises communities in Judea and Samaria, so long as there is no legal barrier to living in the area.
The dispute between Fatah and Hamas over the legal date of presidential elections - January 2009 or January 2010 - has another side to it. According to the Israeli side, there is another option - that the elections not take place at all. This means Mahmoud Abbas could remain in the Muqata until he has enough. So what if Hamas announces this coming January that it no longer recognizes the president? Elections in the territories cannot take place without approval from Israel. It would be enough for the government to bar the opening of polling stations in eastern Jerusalem. President Shimon Peres hinted at this option over the weekend, after he met with Abu Mazen at a conference in Italy.
From a legal and international perspective, Israel has an excellent case. The Oslo 2 Accords stipulate that "the candidacy of parties and individuals will be cancelled if they act with or encourage racism or attempt to achieve their objectives through illegal or non-democratic means." Ahead of the elections in the territories in July 2005, international-law experts at the Justice Ministry prepared, at the behest of Tzipi Livni, then the justice minister, a legal opinion on the issue of Hamas. The document noted that Spain and Turkey had in recent years rejected parties with platforms similar to that of Hamas. The European Court rejected all of the parties' appeals.
Haggai Alon, who was Amir Peretz's political adviser, was present at a conversation during which prime minister Ariel Sharon told Peretz that he regretted giving in to Bush's pressure to hold elections in the territories in January 2006. Sharon said military intelligence also argued that the elections in the territories were a serious mistake. As is always the case with us, they shut the gate after the horses had already fled from the stable.