Israel's settlement quandary
by Raffi Berg
2:39pm Wed Aug 20 '03
In the end, demographics may be the deciding factor in the debate over the future of the settlements. "If you add to the number of settlers about 250,000 Jews living in neighbourhoods beyond the old demarcation line in Jerusalem, whom the Palestinians view as settlers as much as anywhere else, you're talking about half a million people - about 8% of the Israeli population," said Shlomo Avineri, a professor of political science at Jerusalem's Hebrew University
Raffi Berg explores public opinion in Israel:
At his food stand in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, Buddy Frankel, an Orthodox Jew from New York, serves up a hotdog as he gathers his thoughts.
"I don't think there is any such thing as land for peace," he says in a broad Bronx accent.
"As far as I feel, we've got a God-given right to settle any part of the land. The settlements should be left there and more people brought in to settle the land."
His customer, Athina Derasmo, a fellow immigrant from the United States, sharply disagrees.
"Giving up settlements will show good faith," she says. "Palestinians are attached to this land just as much as Jews."
Of all the issues which divide Israelis over the peace process, there is perhaps the least consensus over what to do about the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
While the vast majority of Israelis agree that Jews have a historical claim to the land, whether settlements should be removed and land surrendered to the Palestinians in return for peace is the subject of much debate.
The US-backed roadmap to peace calls on Israel to take "action on settlements in conjunction with the establishment of a Palestinian state", based on the principle of land for peace, and for the Palestinians to end violence against Israel for good.
"In the long-run, most of the settlements should be removed, but terrorism is also a problem and it's naive to say once we start removing settlements terrorism will go," said 26-year-old Clara Unger, a civil servant in Jerusalem.
Widely regarded by international community as illegal under international law according to Fourth Geneva Convention (article 49), which prohibits an occupying power transferring citizens from its own territory to occupied territory
Israel argues international conventions relating to occupied land do not apply to West Bank and Gaza, because they were not under the legitimate sovereignty of any state in the first place
Seventeen-year-old student Jonny Greenwald shook his head in disapproval.
"Removing settlements is not the right thing to do," he said. "The Palestinians aren't keeping to their side of the deal and they are just using what they call occupation to keep attacking Israel."
Another student, 18-year-old David Shukrun, said the settlements should stay because "the West Bank has become part of this land and we can't separate it."
Three years ago, when the peace camp was in the ascendant, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak reportedly offered to dismantle 63 settlements and withdraw from 97% of the West Bank.
But since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising months later, there has been a complete breakdown in trust, and opinions as to the merits of ceding land have hardened.
"Far fewer Israelis believe the Palestinians after three years of terror," said Nadav Shragai, a commentator for the centre-left Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
"More Israelis now support the settlements, because they saw in the last few years that Palestinians attacked towns in Israel as well as settlements in the West Bank. So Israelis sympathise with the settlers more, because they have suffered from the same terror."
It is an observation supported by a recent opinion poll which suggested that Israelis were growing averse to the prospect of evacuating settlements.
According to a recent survey by the Jerusalem-based Harry S Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, 43% of Israelis believe settlers should resist a government order to evacuate settlements, compared to just 12% last year.
Today, about 220,000 Jews live in the West Bank and observers note it would be impossible to uproot and relocate so many settlers.
Even Ehud Barak spoke of leaving 80% of settlers - those who live close to Israel's pre-1967 border - in their homes in a final status deal.
In the end, demographics may be the deciding factor in the debate over the future of the settlements.
"If you add to the number of settlers about 250,000 Jews living in neighbourhoods beyond the old demarcation line in Jerusalem, whom the Palestinians view as settlers as much as anywhere else, you're talking about half a million people - about 8% of the Israeli population," said Shlomo Avineri, a professor of political science at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.
"There are very few precedents in history where 8% of a population has been moved, which makes the reality of this happening - regardless of the legal arguments - highly problematic. But it's being lost in the noise of claims and counter-claims of both sides.
"So even if you think this is what should be done, it's not going to be done overnight. You need a lot of money to do it, it will take three to five years to build houses and infrastructure.
"In the meantime, a lot of things are happening on the ground and they will prove hard to undo."
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