A festive day for peace: Israel is planning to announce a freeze on construction in the settlements as compensation for refusing to discuss the core issues. The Palestinians are ecstatic at all the good-will gestures Israel is throwing their way. First came the release of prisoners, now a freeze on construction, and the prime minister has already spoken with the settler leaders and informed them of the decision. They said it was a "difficult meeting," as it always is, winking at each other deviously.
Undoubtedly, Israel wants peace. But a tiny detail seems to have been forgotten: Israel has signed a series of binding agreements to freeze settlement activity, which it never intended to fulfill. Of the 40 years of occupation, only during three has construction been stopped despite all the agreements and promises to do so. There is no reason to believe that Israel will behave differently this time.
Of all Israel's iniquities in the occupied territories - the brutality, the assassinations, the siege, the hunger, the blackouts, the checkpoints and the mass arrests - nothing serves as witness to its real intentions than the settlements. Certainly for the future. Every home built in the territories, every light pole and every road are like a thousand witnesses: Israel does not want peace; Israel wants occupation. Whoever is serious about peace and a Palestinian state does not put up even a shed.
From Oslo through Camp David and on to the road map, Israel has not put an end to the most criminal enterprise in its history. A short memory refresher: In article 7 of the Oslo Accords, Israel promised that "no party would undertake unilateral steps to alter the situation on the ground, prior to the completion of negotiations for the final status." That really made an impression on Israel. During the 10 years that followed, the number of settlers doubled. What about the heroic peace efforts of Ehud Barak as prime minister? During the 18 months of his government, Israel began the construction of 6,045 residential units in the territories.
And why did Israel sign up to the road map two years later? "The government of Israel will freeze all its settlement activities, in accordance with the Mitchell report, except for natural growth in the settlements." And what happened in practice? Accusations that the Palestinians are not implementing the agreements, and a boatload of new settlers. This was also the case in 2005, another major "year of peace": the disengagement. And what did Israel do in its own backyard? Another 12,000 new settlers.
This terrible enterprise, whose purpose is to foil any chance for peace, is also a criminal enterprise. According to Peace Now, based on Civil Administration data that have been kept hidden for years, about 40 percent of the settlements were built on privately owned land of Palestinians helpless to safeguard what is in most cases their sole property that was robbed in broad daylight by an occupying state. This took place years after the Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that it is illegal to build on private Palestinian land. Indeed, while Israel is debating whether it is a state of laws, whether the prime minister was given a discount for the house on Cremieux Street, and whether we want a powerful Supreme Court, we should remember that what is happening in the territories is the real corruption that engulfs us.
Now we are on the eve of another peace event, yet during the past year another 3,525 new residential units were built in the territories, under the auspices of a government that talks incessantly about the end of occupation and two states. All the grandiloquent statements are void of substance when we read the data: Construction is at a peak in 88 settlements. Go to the territories and see for yourselves. When the construction firm Heftsiba imploded, suddenly hundreds of new settlers came to light, further proof of the magnitude of the "frozen" enterprise.
The mountains of excuses, "settlement blocs" and "natural growth," as well as "beyond the fence" and "inside the fence," cannot conceal the naked truth: The enterprise has not ceased for a moment. It will not stop now. The hands of a quarter million settlers are soiled by iniquity and felony, but they are not the true guilty party. That belongs to all Israel's governments, with the exception of Yitzhak Rabin's second government. All of them have a hand in the iniquity.
Nowadays, when Ehud Olmert says no, what does he mean? Is the "no" really "no" - perhaps it is only "maybe but not right now?" In view of past experience, the bitter truth is that Olmert's "no," like all those before it, is more inviting than "yes."
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