The reports on the development of Arab settlements, as opposed to the Sasson report, are kept under lock and key, and the public knows very little about them. Aside from the media, this conspiracy of silence includes the legal and police establishments.
A scenario: the prime minister needs the support of Knesset members to pass the budget. In exchange, they demand that the freeze on the "new settlements" - in other words, the unauthorized outposts - be lifted, no less. The government ministries, which cut off their allocations by order of the attorney general, will resume the allocations, allowing "employment zones, schools and kindergartens" to be built and "access roads paved to them." And the tax arrears of the residents, on taxes that have never been paid, "will be paid solely on the principle, and will be exempt from fines, interest and index payments."
Due to his coalition partners, Ariel Sharon cannot sanction the outposts by means of a government decision, but, he tells the MKs, the schools, kindergartens, access roads and industrial buildings about which we agreed will exist well beyond these formal decisions.
This was the case, for instance, in Ma'aleh Adumim and Efrat. At first they were "unauthorized"; today, even the Americans agree they will remain under Israeli sovereignty in the framework of the "settlement blocs."
It is easy to imagine the political and legal storm that would erupt when word of such an agreement got out. Peace Now would organize a mass demonstration; half a dozen no-confidence motions would be submitted; Bush would demand that Sharon rescind the agreement post haste; Meni Mazuz would issue a reprimand; and a team from his office would look into the criminal aspects of the deal.
In parallel with the Jewish settlement outpost movement is another movement, political as well, in the framework of which Arabs and Bedouin establish "outposts" - "unauthorized" as well - on state lands in Galilee and the Negev. Residents of these outposts are not lacking for space, either. For example, the density of housing in the legal settlements is much lower in comparison with the Jewish sector. But they have an object: that the land be under Arab ownership.
The Sasson report is not the only report written about outposts. Numerous others about illegal outposts within Israel describe the various methods employed to gain control of state lands. The authorities, state those other reports, prefer to turn a blind eye, either out of weakness or because the Bedouin and Arabs have a strong lobby in the Knesset. The media - Israeli and foreign - usually takes their side.
During the evacuation of Jewish settlement outposts, television seeks out the violence of the settlers. Conversely, when Arabs, or students, or leftists at demonstrations against the separation fence are evacuated, the cameras seek out the violence of the police. No wonder, then, that in the absence of effective enforcement, increasingly more Arab settlements are sprouting on the remainder of state land reserves, ostensibly reserved for future generations. These generations will have no room to live between Gedera and Hadera.
However, the reports on this development, as opposed to the Sasson report, are kept under lock and key, and the public knows very little about them. Aside from the media, this conspiracy of silence includes the legal and police establishments. The result, says one high-ranking official - whose job it is to gather data on unlawful seizures of state lands - is that in the central Galilee, for instance, the Arabs have gained control over about half of available state lands.
The agreement on sanctioning of unauthorized settlement outposts, referred to at the beginning of this column, is not fantasy. It was signed on March 28, on the eve of the budget vote, between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and MK Talab al-Sana and Abdulmalik Dehamshe. It essentially sanctions the takeover by the Bedouin of hundreds of thousands of dunams, says the official, in the Be'er Sheva-Arad-Dimona triangle and in many areas of Galilee. For example, the agreement refers to Um Batin and Bir Hadaj, which are not recognized settlements, as well as dozens of other "settlement outposts" as appearing in the Interior Ministry's book of settlements.
The document in question came into my possession via two sources, one political, the other from within the media. The political source felt a need to justify himself for not having summoned heaven and earth: through the disengagement plan, Sharon had put a spell on all of the establishments, he said, including the legal establishment. And if it is asked, the High Court of Justice will also find a way to sanction the action.
The media source felt that the agreement would be of no interest to the editor. When Jews seize land for national objectives, he said, it is considered a matter worthy of condemnation and attention; when Arabs do it, it is seen as a righteous act, and as the compensation they deserve.