Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The Israeli Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has approved the construction of 20 new housing units at Maskiot, in the Jordan Valley deep in the West Bank. According to Haaretz (7/24/08), the move comes "despite a pledge to the U.S. to halt construction at the site." Defense Minister Ehud Barak is expected to grant authorization soon.
Isabel Kershner writes in The New York Times (7/25/08), "Israeli officials and settler leaders hold that Maskiot was established in the 1980s by Nahal, a youth- and agriculture-oriented branch of the army that founded many settlements in Israel and the occupied territories to bolster security, intending to turn them into civilian settlements." In this way, the move is viewed as "the expansion of an existing settlement."
Clearly, the development is a violation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's pledge to cease all settlement construction, including building new settlements and expanding existing ones beyond their confines. The settlement's value in terms of security is doubtful; populated by civilians, it would have to be defended rather than being a first line of defense. Kershner writes that the "...new housing is intended for families of a former Gaza settlement, Shiryat Hayam. To persuade them to leave Gaza peacefully, the army promised to keep them together. At least eight of the families are already living in Maskiot in trailers."
The fact that Maskiot is located so deeply in the West Bank makes it all the more troublesome in terms of the peace process. It's nowhere near the settlement blocs that Israel hopes to keep in negotiations with the Palestinians, supposedly as part of a land swap. According to the Times, "The Palestinians have said they are ready for minor land swaps along the 1967 boundary separating Israel and the West Bank. But Maskiot is far from that boundary, on the opposite side of the West Bank, near Jordan's border." Saeb Erekat, veteran Palestinian negotiator and aide to President Mahmoud Abbas, stated, "This is destroying the process of a two-state solution. I hope the Americans will make the Israelis revoke the decision." Olmert has not given the plan final approval.
Ami Isseroff, technical writer and programmer who lives in Rehovot, Israel, asks pertinent questions in MidEastWeb, which he directs: "After...putting so much energy into convincing people that Israel is willing to be reasonable about territorial concessions and to make room for a viable Palestinian state, does it make any sense to do the opposite? To risk Israel's relations with the US in order to put one settlement on the map?"
Join two peace groups that are taking a stand against this violation of Israel's international commitments, a violation that makes a two-state solution all the more difficult:
Click here to join Brit Tzedek v'Shalom: The Jewish Alliance for Justice & Peace: "Tell Bush: Israel must not violate settlement commitments!"
Click here to join Americans for Peace Now: "Write Secretary Rice: Tell her that America needs to hold Israel to its commitments to freeze settlement activity."
The AP photo above of new mobile homes at Maskiot in the Jordan Valley, 2/15/08, is by Dan Balilty.