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The issue of Israeli settlements has moved to the front burner.  Diplomatic discussion at this time is focusing on the proposal that Jordan and Egypt put forward in April to end the current crisis and form the basis for new negotiations. (See to read the Jordanian-Egyptian proposal)

This initiative calls for a "total and immediate freeze of all settlement activities including those in East Jerusalem."  U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a May 2 meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, raised the issue of the settlements and made clear that Washington is opposed to all settlement activity, both new and old.

The Bush Administration would undoubtedly meet strong resistance if it chose to back up its words of opposition with meaningful pressure on the Government of Israel to stop all settlement activity.  The Administration needs encouragement from citizens. Members of Congress, heavily influenced by the pro-Israel lobby, need to know that their constituents demand an end to Israel's provocative policy, which has so damaged peace making efforts.

The unwillingness of the Clinton Administration to challenge Israel's settlement expansion during Ehud Barak's tenure as prime minister of Israel is considered a primary reason for the failure of U.S. efforts to lead Israel and the Palestinians to the final status agreement envisioned in the Oslo peace plan. Israel disagreed that settlement activity was included in the Oslo agreement's ban of unilateral acts to change ‘facts-on-the-ground,' and pushed ahead with settlements.

Looking back to his experience in 1978 in negotiating the terms of peace between Israel and Egypt, former President Jimmy Carter wrote last November that "an underlying reason that years of U.S. diplomacy have failed and violence in the Middle East persists is that some Israeli leaders continue to ‘create facts' by building settlements in occupied territory."  Carter, along with former presidents Ford and Nixon, termed the settlements illegal under the Geneva Convention, which forbids a country to transfer "parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies." Succeeding Administrations refused to use the word illegal, and referred to settlements as an obstacle to peace

Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was an architect of the settlement policy and the strategy,  which has sought to prevent the creation of a territorially viable Palestinian entity by moving Israelis into the occupied territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  The settlements and their network of exclusive roads cut the West Bank into Swiss cheese, and form a barrier between East Jerusalem and the Palestinian population of the West Bank.

As Palestinians watched settlements grow, many became convinced that the prolonged negotiations were leading not to peace but to the permanent loss of more of their land. Their despair became the tinder set aflame by Sharon last September 28 when the Al Aqsa intifadeh began.

Sharon has not only declared that none of the Israeli settlements will be dismantled, his government has announced plans for an additional 700 homes in two West Bank settlements and 3,000 new apartments in Har Homa on occupied land annexed to Jerusalem.  The growth of Har Homa is planned even though 76% of the 2,200 units offered in 1999-2000 remain unsold.

The Los Angeles Times, on May 1, reports that 5,000 more apartments are said to be planned for the settlements south of Bethlehem.  The official Israel policy is that no new settlements will be built and that all new settlement activity would only be in response to "natural growth needs."   However, Peace Now, the Israeli group that monitors settlement activity, issued a study on April 16 which reveals that most of the thousands of housing units built in two large West Bank settlements over the past six years remain unsold and empty.  Peace Now's director says that "natural growth" is a fiction designed to camouflage politically motivated expansion.

The Mitchell Committee, an international fact-finding body headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, was established to look into the outbreak of violence. Prominent in their recommendations was a call for a freeze on settlements. Prime Minister Sharon responded to the Committee's call for a freeze by leaking news that he will propose an increase in state support for the settlements by $362,000,000.

Ha'aretz, an Israeli newspaper, called the Committee's report  "a series of intelligent recommendations of ways for restoring calm," and criticized the planned increase in settlement funding as "a slap in the face" to "world public opinion and America's expectations." (See to read the Mitchell report) [Within days, as reported by Israel Radio, "Prime Minister Sharon decided to significantly cut back the additional the settlements." And Reuters reports that with the new budget, Sharon was "moving to ease tension with the United States."]

The settlements are not only illegal and an impediment to peace, but are a primary factor in the daily violence raging between Palestinians and Israelis.   Palestinian gunmen have most consistently targeted settlements.  Israeli forces respond with antitank missiles, fired by helicopter gunships and from the ground, into Palestinian locales.  Most of the 80 Israeli Jews slain in the violence have been settlers or soldiers assigned for their protection.

Forward, an American-Jewish weekly, wrote in the May 11 edition: "The dilemma for Israel's boosters is partly political.  Publicizing the degree to which the violence has been concentrated in the territories could appear to reinforce claims...that the Intifadeh is directed against Israel's presence in the territories and not against Israel as such.  Government officials reject that contention, insisting that the Palestinians true target is Israel itself and pro-government spokemen have sought for months to emphasize that the danger is to Israel as a whole, not just the settlers."

In Hebron about 400 settlers live in the heart of the ancient city among the city's 120,000 Palestinians.   Most of the city is under Palestinian Authority control, but the Jewish enclaves and their nearby neighborhoods - home to 20,000 Palestinians – remain under Israeli control.  In late March about 100 settlers battled Israeli police with iron bars after the police tried to stop them from vandalizing Palestinian homes. The next week six Israeli policemen were hurt as a result of settlers detonating a liquid propane tank in a Palestinian shop. There are about 196,000 settlers in 146 settlements in the West Bank; with 2 million Palestinians living in 650 towns. (See for reports on Israeli settlement by the Foundation for Middle East Peace.)

The Christian village of Beit Jala lies next to Bethlehem on a hill facing Gilo, a huge settlement built by Israel on land it conquered in 1967 and annexed to Jerusalem.  The beautiful stone houses that are nearest Gilo are vacant with huge holes in their walls and with floors littered with shell casings "made in the USA." Israeli forces use what has been condemned as disproportionate use of force to respond to shots fired toward Gilo by Palestinian gunmen from the outskirts of Beit Jala.  In Beit Jala on May 6 Israeli tank shells and gunfire killed a Palestinian fighter and wounded 20 Palestinians, including a five-year-old boy. Settlements in the occupied parts of Jerusalem house about 180,000 Israelis.

The Gaza Strip, where 6,500 Israeli settlers live in 16 settlements and about 1 million Palestinians live in 40 towns, has been subject to some of the worst settlement-related violence.  Despite the perception that Gaza was returned to the Palestinians,  Israel has total control over 20% of Gaza, including 42% of the valuable beach property.  As a security measure to protect settlers' cars from stones and gunfire, a wide swath of land on both sides of the roads leading to the settlements has been cleared of Palestinian olive and citrus orchards, as well as homes.

During the final status negotiations at Camp David last summer, Israel proposed annexing large settlement clusters in exchange for a land swap and the evacuation of small isolated settlements.  Israeli newspapers, reporting last December, said that Israel had agreed to transfer to the Palestinians all the evacuated settlements in their entirety in the framework of the proposed permanent agreement.  A plan drafted by the World Bank envisions selling the settlers' homes, fields and public buildings to Palestinian Authority residents, with Israel being credited toward future rehabilitation costs related to Palestinian refugees, in return for roads and infrastructure that would remain on the land.

Israeli leftists are urging the government to immediately evacuate the isolated settlements and  assist the settlers who want to leave.  David Grossman, an Israeli writing in the November 8 New York Times, says, "Common sense tells us that we cannot defend the settlements, and that they endanger the fragile prospects for peace.  They will have to be dismantled."

Palestinian leader Faisel Husseini, in a May 3 press conference in Washington DC, explained the Palestinian insistence that a permanent peace agreement establish the  Israel-Palestine border as that of June 6, 1967.  He argues that if the border lacked the international legitimacy of UNSC Resolution 242, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from that land it occupied in 1967, it would continue to be subject to dispute and would place an agreement at risk.  "Then we are ready to negotiate adjustments," said Husseini, implying a willingness to agree to Israel's annexation of some settlement blocks in exchange for Israeli land being turned over to Palestine.  Husseini further objected both to the poor quality of the desert lands offered by Israel as a land swap, and to the inequality of Israel determining not only what Palestinian land it will keep, but also what land it will swap.  And in Jerusalem, envisioned as an open city and capital of both countries, Husseini suggests that in return for Israel maintaining sovereignty over settlements in East Jerusalem, Palestinian neighborhoods be built in West Jerusalem.

While the proposals and discussions on final status issues that took place in December and January won't be the starting place for negotiations when they resume,  collective memory will keep them on the table.  Israeli security expert Joseph Alpher concurs with the consensus that a lack of trust dominates and there's a long way to go before a peace agreement can be expected, and there will be additional dangers if the current situation festers.  Alpher sees the Jordan-Egyptian proposal as the way to begin and urged the Bush Administration to "sign onto this initiative in a forceful way."


Contact the Secretary of State and your members of Congress,  making these points in your communication:

1. Ask that the United States support initiatives to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and end the tragic cycle of violence.  Urge policymakers to cooperate with the peace proposal put forward by Jordan and Egypt.

2. Express appreciation for the work of former senators George Mitchell and Warren Rudman on the committee established at Sharm el-Sheik and urge the U.S. to support the recommendations made by the committee.

3.  Note that both the Jordanian-Egyptian peace proposal and the Mitchell Committee report call for Israel to freeze all settlement activity including "natural growth."

4. Quote former President Jimmy Carter, in an oped published in late November 2000,   "An underlying reason that years of U.S. diplomacy have failed and violence in the Middle East persists is that some Israeli leaders continue to ‘create facts' by building settlements in occupied territory."  The Clinton Administration's silence as Israel continuously expanded settlements during the Oslo peace process was a mistake.

5. Ask that financial pressure be applied as it was in 1992 during the presidency of George Bush if the Israeli government is not responsive to appeals from the United States to immediately freeze settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem.

6. Express alarm at the April letter of Congress to the President blaming of the Palestinians for the collapse of the peace process and for "embarking on a campaign of violence."  Ask members of Congress to support the Jordanian-Egyptian Proposal and to insist that Israel freeze all settlement activity as called for in that Proposal and in the Mitchell Committee report as well.

The Honorable Colin Powell
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