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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Building in the 'settlements'

There are two seemingly contradictory articles in the media this morning; one of which is dubbed 'exclusive' in the Jerusalem Post. In the non-exclusive article, YNet carries an al-Reuters report that the 'Palestinians' have sent a letter to President Bush demanding a 'total freeze' on building in the settlements Jewish cities and towns in Judea and Samaria (well, maybe only there) as yet another 'goodwill gesture' in the lead-up to the Annapolis summit mugging.
The Palestinians have told the United States they will accept nothing less than a total freeze in Jewish settlement building ahead of a conference on statehood, a top Palestinian official said on Saturday.

Western diplomats say Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under Western and Arab pressure to go beyond the partial freeze he was expected to announce before the US-sponsored conference this month as a way to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The diplomats say Olmert sought to exempt the occupied West Bank's major settlement blocs, which Israel intends to keep under any final peace deal. Washington was cool to that idea, an Israeli source said.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he sent a letter to the Bush administration on Friday demanding that Israel fully meet its obligations under a long-stalled Road Map peace plan.

The Road Map demands a freeze on "all settlement activities" including so-called "natural growth" of existing settlements. It also calls on the Palestinians to rein in militants.

"Enough games. We want to see an end to settlement expansion and natural growth," Erekat said.

He did not make clear what the Palestinians would do if the demand was not met, putting the onus on the United States and international community to hold Israel to its Road Map commitments.
Of course, the 'Palestinians' have yet to fulfill any of their obligations under Phase I of the road map - specifically dismantling terror groups - nor do they ever have any intention of ever fulfilling them.

Al-Reuters adds this little tidbit at the end of its report:
It is unclear what impact any announcement from Olmert on settlements would have on the ground. Israel's Defense Ministry has already frozen building permits in order to increase pressure on residents to leave dozens of outposts that are considered illegal even under Israeli law.
The JPost's 'exclusive' starts from this point:
No new building permits have been issued for housing units in the larger West Bank settlements [that means the 'settlement blocs' CiJ] for the last five months, according to a spokesman for the Construction and Housing Ministry.

While yellow cranes can be seen clearing earth for thousands of homes in many West Bank settlements based on prior authorization, building permits for only 260 units were issued in those communities in 2007 - and those were handed out in the first part of this year, the spokesman said.

The figures support charges by settler leaders that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has refused to issue new permits for construction in West Bank settlements at a time when its population is growing at almost three times that of the rest of the country.

Settlers in smaller communities have long complained about not obtaining construction permits. But this is the first time since former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was in office 12 years ago that the Defense Ministry has taken steps to halt new construction in larger settlements that would likely be retained by Israel as part of a final-status agreement with the Palestinian Authority - including Ma'aleh Adumim, Modi'in Illit and Beitar Illit.

"Since Barak became the defense minister, nothing has been approved," said Shaul Goldstein, who heads the Gush Etzion Regional Council, adding that he was waiting for word on six proposed construction projects he had submitted to the Defense Ministry.

In 2006 there was a 26 percent decline in the number of new building permits issued to the larger West Bank settlements, from 2,100 units in 2005 to 1,550 in 2006, the Construction and Housing Ministry spokesman said.

That number then dipped by 83% in the first part of 2007 before the permits were stopped altogether, the spokesman added.

The only new permits that looked like they would be authorized in these past few months were for a 48-unit housing project in Ariel, he said. Last week, the permits were denied by the Defense Ministry.

The Construction and Housing Ministry spokesman clarified that his office only worked in conjunction with the Defense Ministry on permits for larger West Bank settlements. The Defense Ministry handled permits for smaller settlements by itself, the spokesman said.

The Prime Minister's Office referred questions about a freeze on new construction to the Defense Ministry. Barak's spokesman said he could not comment, although a source in the Defense Ministry said that no orders to halt new construction had been issued.

But a number of other sources said that Barak was not issuing building permits for settlements over the Green Line. One source added that no statement had been made to that effect so as not to preempt a public announcement of a construction freeze at the upcoming US-sponsored peace summit scheduled for later this month in Annapolis, Maryland.
Read the whole thing.

This morning, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner called for a 'settlement freeze' as if none were in place:
Kouchner told the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper that Israel's settlements were the biggest obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel should stop construction in the West Bank immediately, he said, so that negotiations could progress, allowing for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by next year.

According to Kouchner, there is "no justification" for expanding settlements - neither "natural growth" nor security considerations.
So why are the 'Palestinians' and their allies making such a big fuss if a 'settlement freeze' is already in place? The short answer is that the 'Palestinians' don't want to go to Annapolis in the first place:
The Annapolis Conference: Abu Mazen has been heard joking with his bureau staff that "after 20 years, I've gone back to being a teacher." What he means is that he finds himself engaged in long hours of explaining to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the land mines on the way to a permanent settlement. The Egyptians have already advised finding a suitable pretext to postpone the parley indefinitely. Meanwhile, it is becoming clear to all parties to the negotiations that there is no chance of agreement on a declaration that will herald even a hint of a breakthrough. If Abu Mazen compromises, he will be assailed by both Hamas and much of Fatah. If a vague statement is issued, everyone will say yet again that he has nothing to offer to his people.

The Palestinians are fuming at Rice for having trapped them in a corner and have begun to try and get out of it by renewing the talk about a "third step" in the Oslo process that was never implemented. What this means is an attempt to get more territory on the West Bank from Israel without having to reach any substantive agreement.
If anyone has another explanation, I am willing to listen.

I suppose one could take the position that they are trying to get construction suspended under the existing permits, but even the Olmert government realizes that if they try to do that, they will face several months of High Court of Justice appeals.


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