Thursday, March 05, 2009

about those settlements

Earlier in the week Peace Now issued a report suggesting the Israeli government was expanding settlement construction in the disputed territories at a truly horrendous speed. The Jerusalem Post carries the government’s reponse:
Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim (Kadima) on Wednesday attacked as "baseless" and "imaginary" a Peace Now report which said that 73,302 apartment units were in various stages of approval in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem.
He spoke to the Knesset plenum about the report at the request of MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), who was concerned by the large numbers revealed by Peace Now.

The matter was aired in the plenum on the same day that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had said to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that continued settlement activity was harming the peace process and preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state. If fully executed, the plans in the Peace Now report would double the population of Judea and Samaria and increase the number of Jewish residents in east Jerusalem.

Peace Now based its numbers on a government Web site which allows the user to check the building plans filed for any community in Judea and Samaria, as well as their current status. Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said anyone could check the numbers on that Web site.

Still, Boim said the group had exaggerated the numbers. "If they got to 73,000, they must have put in additional numbers, otherwise I do not understand how they would calculate such a number," he told the Knesset. He admitted that plans for a large number of potential housing units could in fact be found on that site, but said it would be a stretch to imagine that this meant there was any intention to execute them. Whenever a building plan is filed for an area, even a small one, the site's building potential was also included, he said. But that didn't mean there was any intention to actualize those plans, he added.

If anything, he said, the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made it more difficult to push forward construction projects in the settlements by insisting that his office had to sign off on them in addition to the Defense Ministry, which much approve all settlement construction.

He also took issue with the contention in the Peace Now report that 15,156 of the 73,302 housing units had already been approved. According to Peace Now, 8,950 had already been built. Boim said that only 11,532 had been approved for construction and out of those, only 447 tenders had been issued this year for projects - in the settlements of Elkana, Ariel and Betar Illit.

Just because Peace Now comes out periodically with these alleged speculations and just as often seeks to grab the headlines with these kinds of statements ,Peace Now has a rather interesting and complex history with land issues/numbers. Oh, did I mention lawsuits? Can't forget the lawsuits.

Nor can I think of a more uniformly despised group than the foreign funded Peace Now – hell, even the Palestinians in Hebron have taken a turn stoning Peace Now buses when they come out to show their pro-Palestinian creds.

It is very hard to believe the Housing Ministry has a viable plan ready to build at least 73,000 new homes in the near future. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have a problem with this because until there is a peace agreement nothing is off the table –settlements should only be frozen after a peace agreement and not before.

Of course, those who believe expansion of the Israeli housing it the root of the Israeli Palestinian conflict conveniently ignore the prior three wars the Israelis fought against the Arabs, Ehud Barack’s efforts to give back the disputed territories in 2000 and charters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

But this would effectively double the Israeli population beyond the green line in the near future and not over the course of years. Currently, the population of Israelis living beyond the green line is approximately 250-300,000. 73,000 units inhabited by minimum 2 persons each translates into an influx of 140,000 Israelis, and given secular Israelis have the average of three children plus two parents equals a population influx of 365.000. Now of course, mostly likely there wouldn’t be secular Israelis settling in over the green line but national religious and Haredim where the average family has anywhere from 6-8 children plus two parents. At the maximum, this would add population influx of approximately 730,000 for settlement to the disputed settlements. Do you really think the Israeli government is even close to allocating infrastructure and costs for potentially three quarters of a million people within the immediate future? Even the global recession has hit Israel. But more interestingly - who exactly do you think believe provides the contractors and laborers who actually build the settlement houses in the disputed territories?

Be as it may, let's imagine it is so. It certainly presents an intriguing demographic scenario, and begs the question; why should the founding of a Palestinian state be Jew free? Israel, the Jewish homeland, wasn't established 'Arab' free.

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