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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La paix ne vient pas des colons israéliens

by Pierre Barbancey

Palestine: Peace on the West Bank Will Not Come from Israeli Settlers

Translated Tuesday 9 January 2007

Middle East. In announcing that a new settlement would be created and in pursuing his targeted assassinations in the West Bank, Israeli prime minister Olmert is clearly provoking Palestinian Islamists.

The Israeli prime minister is decidedly playing a dangerous game. Forced under pressure to renew dialogue with the Palestinians, and even take some positive measures such as the suppression of a few dozen roadblocks in the West Bank, and the promise to free some political prisoners, he suddenly put his real motives into doubt: Israel gave the green light to the construction of a new settlement in the north of the West Bank, more precisely in the Jordan Valley, to accommodate settlers from the Gaza Strip.

This goes counter to his promise to cease the construction of any new settlement. "What message is he trying to send?" asked Saeb Erekat, advisor of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "Israel must choose between peace and the settlements, because there can be no peace with the settlements", he emphasized.

In blatant contradiction to the "road map"

According to "Peace Now", an Israeli movement opposed to settlements, since l992, no government has permitted the building of new settlements in the West Bank, getting around this by expanding existing settlements. This initiative contravenes the so-called "road map" put together by "the Quartet" (United States, European Union, Russia, United Nations).

The coordinator of the influential Peace Now group, Yariv Oppenheimer, is totally against this new development. "It is a real scandal, especially as this decision has been taken by Amir Peretz, leader of the Labour Party and past member of Peace Now", he told us. "This decision goes against the ’road map’ and against the government programme. Moreover, it hasn’t even been approved by the Israeli Parliament."

This settlement, which will be named Maskiot, will receive 20 families from the previous settlement of Shirat Hayam, as well as 10 families from other settlements of Gush Katif, evacuated in August 2005. Shirat Hayam was one of Gaza’s most "ideological" settlements and the last to have been created in the Gaza Strip. The site of this new settlement was recently abandoned by the army, which was sheltering there a unit of ultra-orthodox soldiers.

Today there are 260,042 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank - without counting Jerusalem, annexed by Israel, where more than 200,000 Israelis are settled in a dozen districts, according to statistics from the Interior Ministry, published last September.

According to Peace Now , 121 settlements have been built with government permits, while 102 settlements were created illegally by settlers. This Israeli initiative simply underlines the ambivalence being maintained by Israel’s leaders, who have no intention at all of handing back the Jordan Valley to the Palestinians, while this area is, of course, indispensable to the viability of a Palestinian State.

Emily Amrusy, spokesperson for the Council of Settlers of the West Bank, the most important settlers organization, has however emphasized that "there is no reason for us to rejoice about this decision, since it is only fulfilling a promise to those who were expelled from Gush Katif".

This Israeli announcement, added to the recent targeted attacks in the West Bank, received an immediate response: missiles from the Gaza Strip rained down on the south of Israel, seriously wounding two people. Consequently, Israel announced it was going to return fire, while claiming it wanted to continue observing the truce with the Palestinians, agreed to last month.

Is Marwan Barghouti going soon to be freed? (1)

In a statement indicating that it was moving away from a general offensive towards making carefully-targeted attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s advisors added that "those responsible for defense have received orders to carry out limited attacks against the groups launching rockets". The Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, said it was afraid that a resumption of the "policy of assassinations" concocted by Israel "will drift around like a straw in the wind" in the present situation.

A fragile peace that has allowed a number of meetings and negotiations. The Israeli soldier, captured last June in Gaza by Palestinian militants close to Hamas, is still alive, according to the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs, Ahmed Abul-Gheit, while visiting Jerusalem last Wednesday.

A meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, is announced for January 4. Until then, the liberation of an undisclosed Palestinian prisoners could take place and among them, Marwan Barghouti (1).

Translator’s note

Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader of the Fatah movement, from the West Bank. He is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail for murder and attempted murder, charges his supporters have always rejected. For Fatah he is a political prisoner. Marwan Barghouti is expected to eventually be freed in a prisoner swap for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

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