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Running off at the mouth

In another four years, Israel will be disengaged from the vast majority of the Palestinian population, within new borders ... The principle that will guide me is convergence into the large settlement blocs - from an interview with Ehud Olmert in Haaretz, March 10, 2006.

According to the latest data from the Peace Now movement, during Ehud Olmert's term of office, at least 4,056 new housing units were built in the West Bank, and tenders were published for another 1,433 units. At least 1,304 of these units, some 40 percent, were built east of the separation fence - meaning outside the "settlement blocs." In East Jerusalem, tenders were published for 2,437 housing units, compared with 2,092 in the two and a half years that preceded the above interview.

Throughout this time, while the settlements were flourishing, not only did the Labor Party sit in the government, but its successive chairmen, defense ministers Amir Peretz and Ehud Barak, were the ultimate authority on everything to do with building permits in the West Bank. Why is it that ministers such as Yuli Tamir, a former member of Peace Now, and Ami Ayalon, who launched the Peoples' Voice initiative, did not demand that the settlements be frozen? It is hard to imagine a graver violation of the policy in whose name this government was elected - to say nothing of Israel's international commitments.

When the coalition negotiations with Tzipi Livni began, Ophir Pines-Paz, one of Labor's senior Knesset members, recalled that the coalition agreement with Olmert makes no mention of the settlements. Pines checked and found that in the current talks as well, his colleagues prefer to ignore this issue. He is convinced that this is not due to forgetfulness. The only minister who left the cabinet when Yisrael Beiteinu joined the coalition claims that this ambiguity over to the settlements is aimed at paving the way for Avigdor Lieberman's party to join the government once again.

"How is it possible to relate seriously to lofty speeches about peace and declarations to the press about far-reaching concessions when the reality on the ground is the exact opposite?" Pines asked. He is demanding that Barak seize the opportunity that Olmert's resignation dropped into Labor's lap to fill in what is missing from the diplomatic section of the 2006 coalition agreement. "If we are going to ignore the wishes of the public, which for the most part prefers elections, we ought to begin taking ourselves seriously and raise a real issue that is worth fighting for," he said.

Running off at the mouth 2

The government of Israel will not be deterred by the threats of a minority of lawbreakers. The unauthorized outposts will be dismantled, and I have already given the appropriate instructions in this regard to our security forces ... We will forcefully defend the values of the rule of law, even when attacked from within - Ehud Olmert at the Herzliya Conference, January 24, 2006.

More than seven months ago, the Knesset State Control Committee held an in-depth discussion about the illegal outposts. The defense minister's assistant for settlement affairs, Eitan Broshi, related that more than 100 of these outposts were home to some 7,000 settlers. Broshi reported on his talks with the heads of the Yesha Council of settlements and predicted that "in the coming weeks," an understanding would be reached about the fate of 26 of these outposts. The list of outposts slated for dismantling, according to a ruling by the High Court of Justice, was headed by Migron, the "father" of the outposts, which is located on private Palestinian land.

According to a senior source in the Defense Ministry, however, thus far, only three or four outposts have been dismantled, none of them very large. Clearly, Migron is not one of them. A few weeks ago, Dror Etkes of the Yesh Din organization discovered that a new electronic gate had been set up at the entrance to the outpost.

MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad) asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to look into whether the Benjamin Regional Council had paid for the gate of an outpost slated for demolition. She reminded him that about two years ago, he banned the transfer of state funds to regional councils in the West Bank until an effective supervisory mechanism was in place to ensure that they did not give money to the outposts. Mazuz's office replied that it is checking into the issue.

The ban on fund transfers was one of many recommendations included in a report on the outposts written by attorney Talia Sasson. The recommendations were intended to stem the outposts' growth. Ariel Sharon's government adopted the report's general principles and ordered a ministerial committee headed by Livni, then the justice minister, to report back within 90 days with a detailed proposal for implementing them.

Three years later, on February 25, the new acting chairman of the committee, Haim Ramon, told the Knesset State Control Committee that he would submit such a proposal to the cabinet for approval "within two months." A similar promise was made to American officials, who refuse to forget about the Sasson Report and Sharon's commitment to dismantle all the outposts established during his term of office.

A spokesman for Ramon said yesterday that the matter has been delayed by a difference of opinion between the Defense Ministry and the Justice Ministry, which has drafted a softened version of Sasson's report. But a source familiar with the issue offered another explanation: Livni, he said, does not want to annoy Shas, so she prefers to sidestep "land mines" such as the outposts and negotiations on Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the upcoming elections in the United States will bring a new president to the White House, and he will have more urgent issues than the Israeli outposts on his plate.

Sasson has long since stopped biting her nails. She told Ramon at February's Knesset hearing that if he plans to adopt the proposal that the Justice Ministry prepared at his instruction, it would be better to leave the situation as it is. This proposal, she claimed, would take control and supervision of construction in the West Bank out of the government's hands and grant broad authority to the local and regional councils - which are controlled by the settlers.

Running off at the mouth 3

Instead of counting checkpoints, they should be improving the economy. I don't need to have anyone count for me. We've taken down hundreds of barriers and today movement in the territories is almost free - GOC Central Command Gadi Shamni in an interview with Haaretz, October 3, 2008.

Shamni may have been referring to OCHA, the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, whose personnel constantly monitor the socioeconomic situation in the territories, including freedom of movement. When Amir Peretz was defense minister, his office used OCHA reports to verify the data that it received from the Israel Defense Forces about the number of checkpoints in the West Bank. More than once, it transpired that OCHA's figures were more accurate.

The difference between Shamni's remarks and the report issued by OCHA at the end of September is nothing to be sneezed at. Either an IDF general is pulling the wool over the public's eyes, or an official UN organization is publishing false figures.

The report stated that OCHA's latest survey of the West Bank and East Jerusalem found 630 barriers that impede Palestinian traffic, including 93 manned checkpoints and 537 unmanned obstacles (dirt barriers, blocked roads, fences and so forth). This figure represents a net increase of 3.3 percent, or 20 barriers, over the figure released at the end of April. Incidentally, when Olmert took office, there were 475 barriers in the West Bank.

OCHA's figure does not include 69 obstacles in the part of Hebron controlled by Israel, H-2, nor does it include eight barriers located on the Green Line. Moreover, the number of temporary checkpoints set up each week has risen by some 10 percent, on average, compared with the first four months of this year.

The report noted that the government has indeed taken steps to increase Palestinian freedom of movement in the West Bank, but their effect has been minimal. Some 65 percent of the major arteries serving the 18 most populous Palestinian towns are either blocked entirely or controlled by an IDF checkpoint - 47 out of a total of 72 roads. More than half of the smaller roads leading to these towns, which have perforce become alternative main roads, are also closed to traffic (24 out of a total of 42 roads).

According to Shamni, "movement in the territories is almost free." According to OCHA, a well-concealed, multilayered system of obstacles and barriers in the territories is making the existing territorial divisions more permanent. Long live those slight differences.

The IDF responded: "Since the beginning of 2008, the Central Command has removed more than 130 roadblocks and dirt barriers. The report's figures are inaccurate, as the apparent rise in the number of barriers stems from counting agricultural gates, crossing points in the 'Jerusalem envelope' and other crossings whose goal is to make freedom of movement easier and more efficient."

No new barriers have been added, the response continued, and the army is holding talks with OCHA in an effort to correct the inaccuracies. Moreover, it is constantly considering additional ways of increasing freedom of movement, "including by granting permits and improving and developing existing checkpoints, at an investment of millions of shekels. But the primary consideration is the safety of Israeli citizens ... and the IDF's activities in the area are influenced by warnings and security threats."