Israelis divided over country's latest settlement plan
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/16/2011 12:00:00 AM | SAMUEL DOVERI VESTERBYE
Israel announced the construction of 400 new settlement units following last week’s Itamar settlement killings, but politicians, international voices and academics remain divided over the new project. While supporters define the new projects as a natural consequence of security threats and the growing need for land, opposition figures warn about ‘yet another breach of international law’
Israeli politicians and academics are reacting to new plans to construct settlements in the West Bank, with some calling the new housing “illegal” while others have termed it 'practical.'
“The new constructions are simply a response to the practicality of any urban community,” Yariv Levin, chairman of the Knesset Committee and member of the governing Likud Party told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “When our borders are finally defined in a peace treaty then we can consider population transfers as has already been done, but it seems insane to restrict all activity in a living city for years.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the plans for the 400 new housing units on Sunday.
Opposing voices have fiercely denounced the settlement plans as yet another attempt to expand Israeli territorial claims, while pointing to its illegality under 1967 U.N. Security Council resolution 242. One member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, accused the new settlement project of having been planned beforehand, saying the government was simply using the recent murder of a settler family as a pretext to push forward more illegal constructions
“This is not an accident, it’s a clear strategy,” Dov Khenin, a Knesset member for the Arab and Jewish Hadash Party, told the Daily News.
[HH] New settlement project stirs problems
The renewed construction announcements on Sunday came after the murder of an Israeli settlement family in Itamar, which is claimed to have put added pressure on Netanyahu to restart settlement projects in an attempt to appease a growing settlement electorate. Although no one has yet been arrested in relation to the case, many in Israel allege that the murderer is a Palestinian.
The government’s Ministerial Committee on Settlements approved the 400 constructions in the settlement areas of Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, Ariel and Modiin Ilit, while government committees have been establish to fast-track the construction.
After the expiration of the 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in September 2010, concerns about renewed construction projects in the West Bank have sparked debate among academics and politicians throughout the region.
Some in Israel have strongly defended the projects, even urging the government to build more.
“Four-hundred is nothing and the government must have options for the settlement community in light of recent attacks,” said Yossi Shain, professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. “It’s an emotional issue and we can’t simply stand by with threats around the corner.”
However, George Giacaman, professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah, objects to assumptions that the perpetrators behind the killings of settlers in Itamar were Palestinian, saying that the matter is still by no means clear.
“Our leaders have condemned the killings, what are we supposed to do next? Commit suicide and give away everything?” he told the Daily News, adding that the building was designed to appeal to the party’s electoral base on the far right.
The settlement expansions are unlikely to halt anytime soon, considering Netanyahu’s relationship with the United States and the government’s planned strategies, according to Khenin.
“Settlements never really stopped and are part of a long-term plan which will block any hopes of a Palestinian state in the future,” he told the Daily News.
While Israeli proponents of settlement construction point to the importance of security and the natural growth of urban cities, international organizations and political opponents have increasingly expressed concern about the renewed building plans.
“The settlement of Israeli citizens in the occupied Palestinian territory is clearly prohibited under international law. All state actions in support of the establishment and maintenance of the settlements, including incentives to create them and the establishment of infrastructure to support them, are illegal,” said a recently published statement by Navi Piloy, United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
Proponents of settlement building argue that international statements remain unrealistic as daily life continues and all constructions remain within existing settlements, while adding that settlements could be temporary and negotiable in case of a solid peace agreement.
“We controlled the Sinai, populated it, built houses and left as soon as we reached a peace agreement with Egypt,” said Levin. “This really proves that construction in many ways is a practical issue of handling everyday life and buildings in a city environment, rather than an elaborate plan to expand everywhere.”