A halt, not a suspension
When Ehud Olmert warns that the world could impose a 'South African solution' on Israel if two states are not created, side by side, he is tacitly admitting that expansion of the settlements is making Israel look increasingly like an apartheid regime.
When Ehud Olmert warns that the world could impose a "South African solution" on Israel if two states are not created, side by side, he is tacitly admitting that expansion of the settlements is making Israel look increasingly like an apartheid regime.
The agreement to withdraw, or to make "painful concessions," as it is sanctimoniously called, is therefore less painful than any other alternative. The only question is whether another Yitzhak Rabin can be found, who is capable of really halting, not just suspending, the construction of settlements, to leave the Palestinians some territory in which to establish Palestine.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit declared that the Arab states will respond favorably if Israel suspends construction in the settlements. This shows the extent to which the continued building damages Israel's relations with its near and distant neighbors. Israelis have become used to accepting lies about "natural growth" in the settlements. They never question why settlers could not build high-rise apartments, but must spread widely across the land. And, of course, settlers' children could never move to Netanya or Mitzpeh Ramon, so for every rise in the population they need to grab more territory.
This brings to mind Ariel Sharon's statement to Bush at the 2003 Aqaba summit: "What do you expect me to do - to ask the settlers' wives to have abortions?" As though there were no housing options for those children but in the West Bank.
As long as the settlement blocs that Israel intends to annex have not been anchored in an agreement, as long as the route of the separation fence has not become an agreed border, as long as there is a will for genuine negotiations, as opposed to unilateral withdrawal, Ehud Olmert's government must act like Rabin's government in the Oslo period.
The state must compensate private contractors who bought land for new neighborhoods, as it did in 1992-1995, to enable revoking contracts even on active building sites. "Settlement blocs" is an empty term until their size is determined by agreement with the Palestinians. Every expansion, every new neighborhood, every outpost left standing generates more access roads, more public infrastructure, more kindergartens. It adds up to robbing more and more land from what little is left on which to build a Palestinian state. It is settlements that prevent Israel from defining a border with the Palestinians, and this is the central issue it deliberately evades. The same goes for Jerusalem, as more and more construction continues to march eastward.
Some 10,000 babies are born in the settlements every year. Israel has no moral or other obligation to make sure they have housing in the West Bank. In April 2004 the government promised the Americans that there would be no more construction "beyond the outside line" of each settlement. That outside line has never been set. Annapolis will not lead Israel to any solution with the Palestinians unless Israel stops cheating and learns to restrain its expansion eastward.