ANATOMY OF THE WEST BANK "REALIGNMENT"

Strategic Pull-Back to Perpetuate Occupation

by David Bloom

The US government, with European urging, has requested that Israel give negotiation of a bilateral agreement with the Palestinian Authority one last shot. If by the end of the year the US agrees with Israel that no "suitable" Palestinian "partner for peace" exists, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's shaky Kadima-led government will continue the process of unilaterally separating Israelis from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and probably parts of occupied East Jerusalem. The process is expected to take four years.

During Olmert's recent visit, US President George Bush praised his plan for unilateral separation from the Palestinians as a "bold move" for peace. However, before Olmert came to the US, Israel had to shelve its request for immediate approval for its separation plan, called at the time the "convergence" plan, along with a $10 billion request to finance the resettlement of thousands of settlers from one part of the occupied West Bank to another—that is, inside Israel's yet-to-be completed separation barrier, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice at the Hague in July 2004. According to a May 15 report in the right-wing WorldnetDaily.com by Aaron Klein, the US balked at the price tag—so far.

The Numbers Game

Gideon Levy, writing in Ha'aretz May 28, says the number of settlers who would be removed from the eastern side of the barrier is now at most 40,000, down from the originally announced 70,000, in Olmert's "convergence" plan. The updated plan also has a new euphemism—"realignment." According to the Jerusalem Post on May 19, 70,000 is the number of settlers who currently live on the eastern or "Palestinian" side of the fence, suggesting some 30,000 settlers are to be left in place on the eastern side. These may become enclosed on the western "Israeli" side in extensions of the barrier yet to be announced. This trial balloon was floated before Olmert's DC trip, by his settlements advisor, Kadima party Knesset member (MK) Uzi Keren, who posited in a May 29 Jerusalem Post article that approximately 55 settlements out of 262 total will be beyond the barrier, but only "20-30" will be removed.

There are an estimated 445,000 Israeli settlers—defined as any Israeli citizens living in occupied Palestinian territory, including within the illegally annexed East Jerusalem area—and their number has actually grown since approximately 9,000 were removed from the Gaza Strip last summer. Under the current plan, only 40,000 will actually be moved anywhere, and generally the Kadima-led government says they will be moved to the existing settlement "blocs" on the western side of the barrier—thus still within occupied territory. The Israeli army intends to still operate in the area where settlers are earmarked to be removed.

The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem lists the number of Israeli government-"approved" settlements (all are illegal under international law) as 152. In addition, there are 105 "illegal" settlement "outposts," according to a report by Israeli government-appointed attorney Talia Sasson. The Jerusalem Post on May 29 said 24 of these "illegal" outposts are slated for evacuation; the fate of the other 81 is to be "reconsidered" under the "realignment" plan. MK Keren said that the "Beit El group" of settlements, which include Ofra and Shilo, currently to the east of the planned route of the barrier, were likely to be included inside the fence. Even without these adjustments, according to B'Tselem, this would enclose 9.5% of the West Bank onto the "Israeli" side of the barrier. This figure does not include the Jordan Valley, itself about one third of the West Bank, but cut off from the rest of the Bank through a series of checkpoints (instead of a formal barrier), and it is unclear what its fate will be. It also does not include Hebron. The Jerusalem Post reported May 26 that Kadima's MK Otniel Schneller, who is involved in formulating the "realignment" plan, proposes to include the Jewish settlements within Hebron, which will be linked up to the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba: "Hebron and Kiryat Arba are supposed to be part of the Israeli state," said Schneller. 450 Jewish settlers living in the "H2," or Israeli-controlled section of Hebron, have made life near impossible for the 20,000 Palestinian residents of the section, who are being effectively cleansed from the area through settler violence.

Even without Hebron or the Jordan Valley included, B'Tselem says 490,500 Palestinians will be directly affected by the barrier—42 communities, with 245,500 residents, including East Jerusalem, will be enclosed on the Israeli side. Fifty communities, with 244,000 residents, will be surrounded on at least three sides to the east of the barrier.

But the 9.5% figure—or the disingenuous 8% figure that David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East affairs (WINEP) cites, which does not include East Jerusalem, doesn't tell the real story. Makovsky groans in WINEP position papers that the Palestinians will tend to look at the glass as 8% empty, instead of 92% full. The empty part of the glass—even if it ends up being only 8% empty—happens to contain the Palestinians' most valuable farmland, and all of its water resources.

Control of Water

Under the Oslo peace accords, four-fifths of the West Bank's water resources were left under Israeli control; the placement of the wall allows it to control 100%. For example, all seven wells belonging to the agricultural village of Jayyous, as well as 95% of its arable farmland, are on the western side of the wall. According to a report in New Scientist, Israel intends to supply West Bank Palestinians with desalinated water from the Mediterranean, under a huge project it intends to undertake, while keeping the lion's share of the West Bank's natural supplies for Israel and its settlements—with the entire project funded by the US. Thus the Palestinians, who sit on top of enough water to be self-sufficient, will be entirely dependent on Israel for water. Israel, in turn, has plans to become a "world water technology superpower." Uri Yogev, chairman of the Waterfronts Israel Water Alliance, was quoted in the Jerusalem Post May 23: "Israel is in a good opening position for handling the international opportunity. The development of new technologies, alongside the growth of the water industry worldwide, will benefit the Israeli water market and create opportunities to develop an export-oriented industry." Yogev estimates that within 10 years, Israel's water industry exports will reach $10 billion, "and then Israel will be considered a world center of developing advanced water industries and technologies."

The 9.5% figure includes the barrier's encirclement of the western side the Jerusalem satellite-settlement of Ma'ale Adumim—which may reach to within 10 kilometers of the Jordan border, effectively cutting off the southern third of the West Bank from the rest, and sealing off East Jerusalem. Israel has proposed digging a tunnel underneath the "E-1 corridor" for the Palestinians, the area it intends to annex to connect Ma'ale Adumim to Jerusalem, linking the southern third of the West Bank with the rest. The Palestinian Authority has made it clear it considers the E-1 plan to be a "red line" which will prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

As of now, the Israeli Committee on Housing Demolitions (ICAHD) reports the bulldozers are not at work in the E-1 area, although settlers are completing a police station on behalf of the Israeli government. Two announced separate sections of the barrier enclosing the Jewish settlements of Ariel and Kedumim will cut off the northern third of the West Bank from the rest—and if Israel retains the road out to the Jordan valley, the West Bank will be effectively cantonized into at least three dis-contiguous sections, with continued Israeli control of Palestinian movement between the sections.

The Jordan Valley

The supposedly dovish Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, the new head of the Labor Party, has approved the expansion of four settlements, Ha'aretz reported on May 21. One of the expansions is to the Jordan Valley settlement of Maskiyot, where the government plans to move settlers evacuated last summer from the hard-line Shirat Hayam settlement in the Gaza Strip. StoptheWall.org reported May 29 that 3000 dunums (850 acres) of Palestinian lands in Wadi al-Maleh are being seized for Maskiyot's expansion, and that 40 farming families are being uprooted. Opinions on both right and left by seasoned observers have tended to doubt Israel will hold onto to much, if any of the Jordan Valley in a final settlement, or unilateral Israeli diktat. Jeff Halper of ICAHD believed it was Ariel Sharon's intention to build up the Jordan Valley and then throw it in as a grand gesture as part of a final "generous offer" to the Palestinian Authority.

The less fettered the access to Jordan, the more likely the state of Jordan can absorb the economic, demographic and political dislocations from what remains of the West Bank—just as Israel would like to see Egypt, with its semi-open border with Gaza, absorb pressures from the Gaza Strip. However, Israel has stepped up the pace of cementing control over the Jordan Valley since the start of the second Intifada. According to Amira Hass writing in Ha'aretz on Feb. 13, the Israeli military issued a March 2005 order banning all but the 50,000 Palestinian residents of the valley, and those working in Jewish settlements, from entering it. Since then, Israel has built permanent checkpoints on the main roads to block access and the IDF is conducting night-time raids to drive unregistered Palestinians out of the restricted area. This consolidation of the valley mirrors then-Defense Minister Yigal Allon's 1967 plan to retain control of area.

Bi-Level Highways, Permanent Checkpoints

The most recently reported plan for the West Bank road system envisions a bi-level system of highways, with Israeli motorists driving above and Palestinians below, for the 20% of West Bank roads used by Israelis. Six of twelve planned interchanges for this system have already been built. In this plan, Palestinians would not be forbidden from traveling on any West Bank roads, but the design would encourage them to use the roads intended for traffic to and from their population centers.

Israel is building 11 permanent checkpoints throughout the West Bank, some designed to be international crossings. The Qalandia checkpoint, which separates Ramallah from East Jerusalem, sports a sign written in Hebrew, Arabic and English, reading "The Hope of Us All," with a picture of a flower. A group of Jewish anti-occupation activists spray-painted "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work brings freedom) on the sign, which the Nazi regime posted on the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The group, which calls itself, "Jews Against Genocide," also painted "Manifest Destiny" on the sign. US diplomats accepted an Israeli offer to tour the new Qalandia complex, now called "Atarot crossing" by Israel, but European diplomats refused. Along with the permanent crossing Israel built between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the Atarot crossing interferes with the free flow of goods and people across the Ramallah-Jerusalem-Bethlehem axis that accounted for approximately 40% of the Palestinian economy five years ago, before the second Intifada erupted.

The northern portion of the separation barrier, from Jenin to Ramallah; the southern portion that divides the Bethlehem area from Israel's Gush Etzion settlement bloc; and the retention of the Jordan Valley, separates the rest of the West Bank from nearly all its arable farmland—thus depriving a future Palestinian state of any ability to be self-sustaining. The barrier has already promoted a migration away from farming areas towards urban centers further from the barrier.

The Industrial Agenda

Included as part of "realignment" is a plan to build industrial zones on the farmland being confiscated from Palestinians. Two years after these plans were announced, not one resident of the encircled city of Qalqilya has accepted "shares" in the zone Israel intends to build on lands belonging to Qalqilya on the other side of the barrier, where Israeli capital can exploit Palestinian labor without Palestinians entering Israel proper. If the idea was to keep the disenfrancised Palestinians from revolting, that may turn out to be a bust—the Erez and Karni industrial zones at the edge of the Gaza Strip are subject to repeated attack by the Palestinian resistance, and Kadima MK (and former prime minister) Shimon Peres announced May 24 that plans for additional industrial zones—to have been run jointly with the Palestinian Authority—on the boundary with Gaza have been cancelled due to security concerns.

That the motivation for the realignment plan is political and not security-related is confirmed by Martin van Creveld, widely considered the dean of Israeli military historians. When this reporter asked if there was any security justification for placing the barrier four miles from the Green Line in Jayyous, Van Creveld replied: "In my view, as an Israeli who is concerned about his country's future, the wall should run along the 1948 border. But better any wall than none."

In his book, Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Towards Peace (St. Martin's Press, 2004), Van Creveld concludes that "seen from a security point of view, indeed, the entire map of settlement hardly makes any sense at all."

RESOURCES:

"The Choice Is Now," Angela Godfrey, Challenge magazine, May 29
http://electronicIntifada.net/v2/article4750.shtml

"Countdown to Apartheid," Jeff Halper, Counterpunch, May 26
http://www.counterpunch.org/halper05252006.html

"Israel Lays Claim to Palestine's Water," New Scientist, May 27, 2004
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn5037

For a map of the Allon plan, see:
http://www.mideastweb.org/alonplan.htm

See also:

"Bitter Fruits Of Jordan Valley Apartheid,"
by Sarkis Pogossian
WW4 REPORT #118, February 2006
http://www.ww4report.com/node/1533

"Update From Jayyous: Israeli Settlement Seizes Palestinian Farmland,"
by David Bloom
WW4 REPORT #105 December 2004
http://www.ww4report.com/105/palestine/jayyous

"Israel to UN: Drop Dead!"
by David Bloom
WW4 REPORT, #101, August 2004
http://ww3report.com/hague.html

"Israeli army attacks protest, girls school," May 16
http://www.ww4report.com/node/1976

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Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution