Moving toward permanent control of the territories
Based on what has been happening lately in the West Bank and Gaza, it's apparent that one must get used to the idea that the Israeli regime in the territories, in its current form, is becoming permanent.
Based on what has been happening lately in the West Bank and Gaza, it's apparent that one must get used to the idea that the Israeli regime in the territories, in its current form, is becoming permanent. The elements are familiar: The Israel Defense Forces have taken the place of the Palestinian security services, which the army obliterated in the West Bank and partially destroyed in Gaza.
Palestinian cities, towns, and villages are under various forms of siege ("closure" in the official terminology), with severe limitations on freedom of movement for the residents, and the Palestinian Authority's institutions and services are barely able to function. Last year's Operation Defensive Shield practically destroyed the sovereign existence of Area A, which had been under full Palestinian control in the West Bank. In recent months, Gaza's Area A has been going through a similar process of elimination.
From several perspectives, the worse things have become for the Palestinian residents of the territories, the better things have become for the settlers. Though settlers are targets for unceasing Palestinian attacks, and settlers have left some places, the overall framework of Jewish settlement in the West Bank continues to develop apace.
The civilian and security infrastructures for the settlements have been greatly strengthened. There is nearly complete Israeli control on the roads in Judea and Samaria. The electricity and water systems, as well as various other services used by the settlers have become nearly completely independent of the Palestinian infrastructure. All the planning bodies in the territory are under settler control. The Defense Ministry's civil administration, which in the past handled all matters in the territories, has become an instrument to extend Israeli control over about half the West Bank.
The most tangible example of this situation is the outposts. In recent years, the 125 Jewish settlements have added another 105 outposts. Dror Etkes, who coordinates Peace Now's monitoring of settlement activity, flew over the West Bank last week to update the picture of the outposts. He says that every time an outpost is dismantled - with much dispute and argument - another one, whether inhabited or not, is put up in its place. Since June 2002, when then-defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer evacuated two outposts, another 30 have gone up.
The outposts, which are an expression of Israel's lengthening grasp over everywhere possible in the West Bank, have become a symbol of settler power and of the power of their representatives in the Israeli government. The question of the legality of one or another settlement is irrelevant because the authority and the power to decide whether they are legal or not is either directly or indirectly in the hands of the settlers.
This new Israeli reality in the territories is first of all the result of the Israeli government and apparently most of the Jewish public having lost faith in the Palestinian Authority and its institutions. The Israeli defense establishment and other government agencies simply do not trust the Palestinians and are not prepared to give them any powers - not on security matters or any other matters.
Here and there, there might be Israeli proposals to put the Palestinians to the test and, for example, give them control over northern Gaza, to see if they can prevent Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot. But the fate of those experiments seems to be the same as previous ones, like the Bethlehem First plan that failed immediately upon its implementation.
No less important is the fact that Ariel Sharon and a majority of his ministers are completely in thrall to the political and ideological belief (and not simply the security concept) that there must be full Israel control over nearly all of the western bank of the Jordan River.
Meanwhile, on the Palestinian side, the ruckus in the political leadership is unceasing. The smashed PA is busy with rivalries and power struggles. The only thing that unites them is their assessment that given the existing political status quo in Israel, there's no chance for any progress toward peace.