American pressure is penetrating the hearts of mainstream settlers. People like Uri Elitzur - who saw from a government office what many settlers do not see from the West Bank - understand that Barack Obama has changed the rules of the game between the United States and Israel, and that despite the right's victory in the elections, the Palestinians are not planning to go anywhere. What this means is that after 42 years of occupation, the time has come for the settlers to choose between Jewish land and a Jewish state.
A hint of this could be found in remarks made by Elitzur last Friday, the day following Obama's Cairo speech. Elitzur, who headed Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau during the latter's first term as prime minister, was once one of the leaders of the Gush Emunim settlement movement; today, he is deputy editor of the newspaper Makor Rishon. On Friday, he debated Gadi Baltiansky, director general of the Geneva Initiative, at a seminar for parliamentary assistants organized by the Geneva Initiative at Ma'aleh Hahamisha, outside Jerusalem.
Elitzur rejected Obama's notion of a two-state solution, saying a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders would be a hotbed of terror. However, the status quo - which, he said, means an apartheid state - is also unacceptable to him. So what does that leave? A binational state.
Elitzur proclaimed that the Land of Israel is more important than the State of Israel, and a Jew's right to live any place in his land is more important to him than the desire for sovereignty. In order to make this concept more concrete, he compared the Land of Israel to his wife and the state to a cleaning woman. "I married my wife, not the cleaning woman," he said.
Elitzur is not the only veteran settler who would choose the Greater Land of Israel even at the price of the state losing its Jewish majority. Former MK Hanan Porat and other settler leaders have recently prophesied in a similar vein. If you like, this is nothing but a post-modern version of post-Zionism.
Natural increase appears to be unique to Jewish settlers. Otherwise, how can we explain the Israeli occupation authorities' refusal to expand the living space of Palestinians? Most Palestinians are crowded into what the Oslo Accords termed Areas A and B; they are not permitted to build in Area C, which constitutes about 60 percent of the West Bank. And as if that were not enough, the expansion of the settlements and the illegal outposts comes at the expense of our Palestinian neighbors' freedom of movement.
A new report by the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, covering September 2008 through the end of March 2009, states that the settlements are the most important factor in determining movement restrictions in the West Bank. The report demonstrates a high correlation between the location of impediments to movement, including the separation fence, and the location of settlements and settlers' roads. Paving alternative roads requires expropriating lands, and in this way, the area available to Palestinians for development is reduced.
OCHA field workers mapped and documented 634 physical barriers, 93 of which were manned. And contrary to Defense Minister Ehud Barak's claim that the Israel Defense Forces recently evacuated several outposts, the workers reported that activity to expand settlements had actually intensified along the western side of the fence.
In addition, the report noted, stepped-up violence by settlers has reduced Palestinian farmers' ability to work their lands near certain settlements. And in parts of the Jordan Valley and the eastern slopes of the Bethlehem and Hebron districts, Palestinian farmers and shepherds have seen their access to their lands restricted even further over the past few months, because these areas have been declared closed military zones or nature preserves. Some 28 percent of the West Bank is defined as either a closed military zone or a nature reserve.
An old-school lawyer
Although he is quite a young man, Yosef Havilio, the Jerusalem municipality's legal advisor, belongs to the old school of lawyers for whom honesty and justice were paramount, no matter what. He, too, has presumably noticed that leaders of right-wing organizations are constantly in and out of the office of Mayor Nir Barkat, their new partner in the vision of Judaizing the Old City and its surroundings. But this did not prevent him from issuing a professional opinion, in response to an inquiry from Meretz city councilman Pepe Alalo, that sealed the fate of the Elad organization's plans for new construction in the City of David.
At last week's meeting of the local planning and building committee, Havilio's representative, attorney Shirin Barghouti-Milham, told the committee it had no authority to approve the plan over the legal adviser's objections. Before voting with the majority in favor of the plan, Likud councilman Elisha Peleg vented his anger at Barghouti-Milham.
But Havilio was not deterred by this outburst. In an unusual step, he told the city engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, that the committee's decision was illegal and forbade him to issue a building permit. He also sent a letter to Barkat stating that Peleg may have committed a criminal offense - either insulting a civil servant and/or inciting to racism - when he shouted at Barghouti-Milham: "Get out of here ... You're a low-level clerk, you systematically object to building in the eastern part of the city ... You want to help the Palestinians all the time."
A municipal spokesman said Barkat has demanded that Peleg apologize to the attorney and will decide on further steps depending on how Peleg responds. Peleg wrote back to the mayor saying he never referred in any way to Barghouti-Milham's origins, and his words were distorted by Havilio, who was not present at the time. He also denied that the mayor asked him to apologize and said he has no intention of doing so. Six city councilmen have complained to Barkat about Havilio's letter.
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