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Lost in Obfuscation
Last uploaded : Wednesday 24th Dec 2003 at 23:56
Contributed by : Debra DeLee


December 24, 2003

Anyone who sympathized with Bill Murray?s struggle to understand
Japanese culture in Lost in Translation should take pity on analysts
searching for the deeper meaning of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon?s recent
speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sharon said some positive
and, for him, new things about settlements and the peace process. But
one needs to look beyond his words to understand what may actually
happen on the ground as a result of the positions he staked out.

For instance, it was gratifying to hear Sharon re-discover the Road Map
and its promise of eventually resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace
negotiations. He was absolutely right to insist on the Palestinians
fighting terrorism to fulfill their obligations under the first stage of
the Road Map. He was equally correct to lay out a series of steps that
Israel must take to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in the
occupied territories.

But Sharon has promised?and not delivered?such steps before. The fact
is, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have met their commitments
in the Road Map. And if Sharon continues to insist on the Palestinians
meeting their security obligations before Israel does what is required
of it, instead of moving in a parallel manner as it is supposed to do
under the Road Map, then the Road Map will never be implemented.

Similarly, there was mixed news in Sharon?s speech about settlements.
It was good to hear him promise, yet again, to fulfill Israel?s
commitment to dismantle unauthorized outposts. But the Road Map does
not discuss outposts in terms of whether they are authorized or not. It
insists that all of them built since March 2001 be dismantled.
Unfortunately, the Israeli government has been working overtime to
provide retroactive approval for outposts built without prior
authorization. Therefore, Sharon?s promise will amount to minimal
action, if any, on the ground to actually address this problem.

On the issue of freezing construction of more established settlements,
Sharon seems to have a laid out an interesting formula for minimizing
settlement growth. He promised ?no construction beyond the existing
construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special
economic incentives, and no construction of new settlements.?

But what appears to be a concrete way of addressing settlement expansion
fails to meet the reality of how settlements have developed over time.

Sharon offered no definition of what ?the existing construction line?
would entail?the last brick laid at the edge of an established
settlement community, or the last brick laid at the edge of an outpost
?neighborhood? of a settlement built a few hilltops away. Indeed, the
settlers often argue that outposts are really just new ?neighborhoods,?
a position not contradicted in the Sharon formula.

No additional land needs to be expropriated for new settlement
construction since the boundary lines of existing settlement
municipalities and regional councils already encompass over 40% of the
West Bank, while actual settlement construction covers just 2-3% of the

Along the same lines, Israeli government aid is rarely earmarked as
?special economic incentives? for the settlers; it is often part of
budget accounts that go to broader categories of communities, even
though, in practice, most of money is funneled to the settlements.

Having laid out a scenario in which the Road Map is unlikely to be
implemented and little meaningful action is taken against settlements,
Sharon then outlined his ideas for Israeli ?disengagement? from the
Palestinians. Keeping in mind that Sharon is one of the architects of
the settlement movement, there is considerable ideological significance
in his public recognition that settlements must be redeployed in order
to ?reduce as much as possible the number of Israelis located in the
heart of the Palestinian population? and that ?Israel will not remain in
all the places where it is today? in the framework of a future agreement.

However, Sharon?s epiphany about settlements was accompanied by his call
to accelerate construction of the Israeli security fence, which is being
built deep inside the West Bank and undermines the possibility of ever
reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. If he insists on
maintaining the current route of the fence, rather than building it
along the Green Line, Sharon?s speech at Herzliya amounted to an
announcement that Israel intends to absorb about half of the West Bank.
His plan will bring hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their
villages inside Israel?s line of defense, ensuring that Israeli and
Palestinian populations remain intertwined and failing to address the
growing demographic threat to Israel?s future as a Jewish, democratic state.

Prime Minister Sharon may have used hopeful words in his Herzliya
speech, and he may remove a few settlements. But his basic intentions
should not be lost in obfuscation. President Bush needs to hold Sharon
accountable for implementing what?s in the Road Map itself if the
President is serious about helping Israel and achieving a two-state
Debra DeLee is President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now.

Americans for Peace Now

Fax (202) 728-1895


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