Building Settlements, Killing Peace

In a perfectly calculated spin, Prime Minister Sharon unilaterally declared "cease fire" last Tuesday (22.5). He did not announce it in the press conference that day, but made it known indirectly several hours later, giving even more bubble-gum for the columnists to chew: Did he forget to mention it (as his assistants say)? Or did he actually imply it (as his other assistants say)? And then: Will the Israeli army indeed cease the fire? (It did not.) And if not, is it government policy or military initiative? (see my "State of the Army" for an answer.) And further: Why don’t the Palestinian cease fire "too"? (Why should they? To suit Sharon’s spin?) All this cud will be chewed for days now, representing the Palestinians once again as aggressors who rejected the cease fire offered so magnanimously by Sharon, the pure Israeli dove.

What is Sharon spinning away? Not Israeli war crimes in the territories. These – like the bombardment by F-16 aeroplanes of the old prison of Nablus last week (attacking prisons is a war crime) – are easily washed away by US-controlled international media. The "cease fire" spin is meant to divert attention from the clearest recommendation of the Mitchell Report: "The Government of Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the “natural growth” of existing settlements."

But the Government of Israel will not freeze all settlement activity. Even though the Palestinians have already endorsed the Mitchell Report. Even though Europe endorsed it. Even though the Bush administration hesitantly endorsed it. Even though 62% of the Israelis, according to a recent poll by Israel’s largest daily Yedioth Achronoth (4.5), support freezing all settlement activity in return for a cease fire. The Government of Israel will not freeze settlement activity, because settlement activity is Occupation, and the Government of Israel is not willing to end the Occupation – in spite of the whole world, including its own electorate.


One must realise that the settlements are not just an appendix to the Israeli Occupation: they are the Occupation itself. They rob the Palestinians of every vital resource and freedom necessary for their life, both as individuals and as a nation. Many people – even those who have been to the occupied territories and seen the settlements – fail to comprehend it. A settlement is never just a fortified group of red-roofed villa’s on the top of an occupied hill. Only in the first instance do settlements mean confiscated land – sometimes free, sometimes agricultural, sometimes inhabited land whose Palestinian population was deported. A settlements also means Israeli soldiers who join forces with murderous settlers in harassing the Palestinians. It also means checkpoints, and a road – preferably several roads – connecting it with other settlements and with Israel itself. A road, again, is not just land: it is an ever growing "security belt" on both sides of it, belts of Palestinian fields and buildings swept by Israeli bulldozers "to prevent terrorist attacks" on the road. The function of those ever-expanding "by-pass roads" is not so much to serve the settlers (Israeli governments are not interested in drivers: roads in Israel are on a Third World level), but to cut off Palestinian towns and villages from one another, to cantonise the territories and split the Palestinians into minimal separate units that can be manipulated one by one, or even against one another – the good old "divide and rule."

Beyond land and contiguity, settlements are meant to steal Palestinian water: from the very beginning, the settlements were located in strategic sites above aquifers. At present, Israel uses about 80% of the water of the Territories, leaving just 20% to their Palestinian inhabitants. Pictures of thirsty Palestinians and drained olive trees next to Jewish settlers indulging in swimming pools are well-known; but only this week did Israel’s comptroller expose the fact that the national water company had never imposed excess-use charges on the settlers, estimated at $18 million.

And then, last but not least, there is the political significance: by moving Israeli citizens into the territories, Israeli governments increase the number of citizens who have a vested interest (real estate etc.) in keeping, expanding and strengthening the settlements.

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Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and has grown up in Israel. He has B.A. in Computer Science, M.A. in Comparative Literature and he presently works on his PhD thesis. He lives in Tel-Aviv, teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature in Tel-Aviv University. He also works as literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. His work has been published widely in Israel. His column appears monthly at


"The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies", says Article 49 of the Geneva Convention. Obviously, the settlements are illegal. Even though, the settlements have not stopped for a single day during the last 30 years or so. Contrary to common belief, Labour governments have consistently been more effective than right-wing ones in building settlements: Peres’ and his Labour party have always been much more ingenious and convincing than Likud in selling the settlements to the world. And, again contrary to common belief and to the hopes of supporters of peace, the most intensive expansion has been taking place since 1993, during the Oslo process: the number of settlers has doubled these years. In other words, the number of new settlers during these 7 years equals the number of settlers in all 25 previous Occupation years. If this was not Israel’s very reason for signing these agreements (I personally believe it was), it is certainly their most cynical abuse.

It is fascinating to follow the ingenuity of Israel’s propaganda machine in inventing ever more fallacies to justify the existence and restless expansion of the settlements. Let us skip fundamentalist claims about the Occupied Territories being "the Land of Israel" or outdated arguments such like "security reasons" (sounds more like a macabre joke nowadays), and concentrate on more recent and sophisticated casuistic.

(1) The Political Fallacy: "Sharon will have no coalition if he freezes settlements." This is simply not true: with his broad coalition comprising more than 90 of the 120 Knesset members, Sharon could easily do without the two settlers’ parties. At any rate, if 62% of the electorate supports freezing the settlements, but a parliament majority for it cannot be found, something is very rotten in the State of Israel. Note how political difficulties at home are always met with understanding when they are on the Israeli side; if Arafat raises the very same argument, he is urged to suppress his opposition by force.

(2) The "Final Status" Fallacy. "The settlements are an issue to be solved in the final status negotiations." Indeed, this is what the Oslo agreements say. But the agreements also say the present "transitional period" (preceding the final status) will not exceed five years – starting 13th September 1993. Israel does not wish to reach a final status agreement at all (unlike Barak, who just acted this way, Sharon says it openly) – so it can expand the settlements forever. Settlers’ leaders were told by Yizchak Rabin from the very beginning that "there will never be a final status agreement." This is why Palestinians reject yet another interim agreement: they have been cheated long enough.

(3) The "Reward for Violence" Fallacy. "Stopping the settlements would be a reward for terror", Shimon Peres claims. An interesting argument: I rob your wallet. And then your watch. And then your coat. At last, you give me a slap in the face. Now I cannot stop robbing your shirt, and your trousers, and your underwear – or else your slap would be rewarded. This very gangsters’ logic has recently gained a special seasoning by Sharon, who actually believes that "expanding the settlements is a good way to put pressure on the Palestinians to stop the violence." A homeopathic principle – curing an illness by its very cause – implemented in totally non-homeopathic overdose.

(4) The "Natural Growth" Fallacy has been convincingly refuted by data exposed recently in Yedioth Achronoth (11.5). There are 9,844 empty new housing units in the settlements (minimal estimation; American sources mention 20,000). Every year, 2,000 young settlers marry. Even in the most unlikely case, if every settler attracts a partner from outside the territories (in fact, settlers often marry among themselves), they will need no more than 2,000 units a year. "Natural growth" has therefore already been satisfied for the next 5 years at least. These data do not take into account the exodus from the settlements due to the present Intifada. Journalist Daniel Ben Simon of Haaretz (15.5) reports of "a gradual trickle of settlers who are sick of this kind of life. […] Nearly half of the 15 houses in Dugit [in Gaza Strip, rh] stand empty. A new neighbourhood in Nisanit looks like a ghost town. It’s the same in Elei Sinai. The government has built more than 100 cottages with red tiled roofs in Pe’at Sadeh – only 15 families live there and some of them are already planning on leaving. […] In the settlements of the Jordan Valley, the situation is just as bad. Last summer, before the riots, the kindergarten in Naama shut its doors because there were not enough children of kindergarten age left in the community. Many of the residents of Fatzael, Netiv Hagedud and Yafit are making plans to cross the Green Line into Israel. One inhabitant of Fatzael reports that, in the wake of the disturbances and in view of the uncertainty about the settlement’s future, Fatzael’s population has been reduced by half" – and so on. The title of Ben Simon’s column says it all: "The fraud of natural settlement increase."

(5) The "No New Settlements" Fallacy is especially ridiculous. Every settlement has numerous detached "outposts", "quarters" and "neighbourhoods." If you are not allowed to build a new city near New York, found Philadelphia – but claim it is an outpost of New York city.

(6) The "No Territorial Expansion" Fallacy is the latest fraud invented by Peres. A fraud – because every settlement has been allotted endless "land reserves", of which only very little is actually in use. Out of more than 1 million dunum allotted to the settlements according to the Settlers’ Council (official data has never been released), only 78,786 dunums (7.8%) were in use according to Peace Now’s survey (Updated March 1999. Source: Ha’aretz 16.2.2000. One dunum is circa 900 square metres). The largest settlement of Maale Adumim, located strategically east of Jerusalem in order to cut off the northern part of West Bank from its southern part, uses less than 7% of its 50,000 dunums. Settlement Itamar uses 483 dunum but has been allotted more than 6,000 (8%). Thus, without any "territorial expansion", Shimon Peres can make the settlements 15 times bigger and theoretically increase settlers number – if he just finds candidates – from 200,000 today up to 3 million, half of Israel’s population. This is Peres’ "Road to Peace."


All this false casuistic obscures a very simple truth. Israel’s leadership – Likud and Labour, Sharon and Peres (and Barak; see his latest version of the "natural growth" fallacy in the New York Times) – simply do not want to stop the settlements. Not for a year and not for a day. They use public money to build thousands of empty housing units, because they want to occupy as much land as they can and push the Palestinians away. While all this distracting discussion is going on, and though it committed itself not to build any "new settlements", the young Sharon government has already built 15 new settlements – an ambitious match to the 40 or more new settlements founded by Barak.

It is true: there is no partner for peace. On the Israeli side. Sharon is certainly no partner for peace, Peres is just as bad, Barak was even worse. When the Israeli Army claims (Haaretz 25.5) that "the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will continue for many months, maybe even years, in its current form, although the number of casualties is expected to rise and the methods used by both sides are likely to intensify", it is not a strategic evaluation, but rather Israel’s operative war plans. Once the "cease fire" spin is exhausted, Israel (with US backing) will again sell us the fiction about Palestinian rejectionism – and escalate the bloodshed. And the settlement activity.

Author: Ran HaCohen

Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in computer science, an M.A. in comparative literature, and a Ph.D. in Jewish studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English, and Dutch). HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter From Israel" appears occasionally at