The fact that these grants will fund highly politicized and inflammatory projects is best exemplified by the NIS 2 million slated for the “City of David” project in Silwan. This East Jerusalem settlement in the guise of an “archeological park” is at the cutting edge of efforts to insert Israelis in Palestinian communities around the Old City basin.
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov [Israel Beiteinu] provides a policy-oriented explanation for the funding:
“The Tourism Ministry attaches great importance to developing tourism in Judea and Samaria, which is the basis for [the] ‘Every Jew’s Story’ [campaign] and is located in the very heart of the State of Israel,” the minister wrote. “The historical heritage serves as a significant drawing point both for internal tourism and for tourism from abroad.”
It would be a stretch, however, to think that he actually believes this claptrap. Misezhnikov is a politician using his position to dole out pork to allies.
Last week Haaretz reported on a new domestic campaign, which aims to re-brand the West Bank settlements as pastoral tourist attractions. The settlers running it appear to actually believe that they are exposing an obscured reality, restoring the objectively positive image stolen from them. Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Masika:
Settlement’s biggest enemy is ignorance. That’s the place where prejudice takes hold, fertile ground for hatred and blood libels against us. We can change this situation through these tours.
From a narrow Israeli perspective, maybe they’re right. Within our Orwellian public debate, it’s often hard discern which perception of reality is upside-down.
Yuval Karni, Yediot, September 20 2010 [page 6; Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]
While the Americans are struggling to arrange a continued construction freeze in the territories, there are those in Israel who are already preparing vigorously for the next stage. Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov intends to transfer in the near future millions of shekels to settlements in Judea and Samaria for the purpose of developing tourist sites and attractions in the territories.
An internal Tourism Ministry document shows that in total, over NIS 9 million will be transferred to Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem. Minister Misezhnikov, who is strongly opposed to the freeze, wishes to let the local authorities develop the tourism branch within their boundaries.
Many areas in Judea and Samaria will enjoy the benefit of the large budgets that the ministry stands to transfer. The Samaria Regional Council will receive NIS 300,000 for tourism projects within its jurisdiction (signs in the Reihan forest, paving bicycle trails in the Shaked forest), the Binyamin Regional Council will receive NIS 100,000 for putting up signs in tourist sites, the Southern Hebron Hills Regional Council will receive NIS 100,000 to develop the Susya historical site, the share of the Karnei Shomron Regional Council will be NIS 100,000 for developing bicycle trails in Nahal Kaneh, and the Kiryat Arba Local Council will receive NIS 40,000 for planning tourism projects.
The big money will be given to the Etzion Bloc, the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem. The Tourism Ministry will transfer NIS 1.5 million for renovation and upgrading of the Herodion site within the boundaries of the Etzion Bloc Regional Council, about NIS 2 million to the Kasr al-Yahud baptism site in the Jordan Valley, and about NIS 5 million for developing projects in East Jerusalem: NIS 2 million for the City of David, NIS 1.5 million for Zedekiah’s Cave and NIS 1.5 million for tourism infrastructure in the Old City.
Tourism Minister Misezhnikov sent letters yesterday to mayors in Judea and Samaria and explained that he considered this a Jewish-Zionist necessity. “The Tourism Ministry attaches great importance to developing tourism in Judea and Samaria, which is the basis for ‘Every Jew’s Story’ and is located in the very heart of the State of Israel,” the minister wrote. “The historical heritage serves as a significant drawing point both for internal tourism and for tourism from abroad.”
In the letter, the tourism minister notes that upon the expiration of the security cabinet’s decision to suspend construction in Judea and Samaria, “I have decided to budget infrastructure, tourism and public projects throughout Judea and Samaria.” The minister also instructed the settler leaders to turn to Tourism Ministry Deputy Director General for Infrastructure and Investments Shai Weiner in order to receive a commitment for promoting projects in the territories.
Cross-posted with permission from The Middle East Channel.
Recent and related Coteret posts: Nahum Barnea: Under Obama, deceit on settlement expansion is no longer viable | Maariv feature documents “settlement freeze” sham | Makor Rishon: US Ambassador and other officials regularly review details of J’lem construction plans | Yediot’s defense analyst: Settlement construction spree in September dooms negotiations |
Proximity talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership have just begun. It took the Obama administration almost 15 months to obtain the consent of the parties to talk to each other indirectly, through Senator Mitchell’s team. For the 19 year-old peace process (if counted from the Madrid summit) it is doubtful whether this new phase deserves even the modest “small step” label.
Small as it is, securing the diplomatic and political climate which enabled the proximity talks was not an easy step to achieve. It required the administration to put considerable pressure on the parties and, in the case of the demand from the Israeli government to freeze construction in West Bank settlements, some unprecedented arm-twisting. This explains why, though holed like Swiss cheese and scattered with countless inexplicable exceptions, the settlements construction moratorium is seen and presented by the administration as its biggest success so far.
Almost five months after the declaration of the moratorium, it is now clear: the Netanyahu-Barak government is compensating the settlers generously for introducing this (partial) construction freeze. The reward is huge and expensive and it is paid in the most precious currency Israeli leaders have: outpost legalization and planning approval. The settlers, ideological and patient in a manner that only messianic communities are, understand that while the construction moratorium is temporary, legalization of outposts and approval of construction plans will have long-term effects. They see the attraction in this barter for the long run and act accordingly. They play their role in the freeze game: they demonstrate against it, they send their young hooligans to clash with the Israeli army and police, they violate it publicly but they do not declare the current government as their enemy, as they did when the late Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, declared a narrower construction moratorium– one that applied only to state-funded construction in settlements. The planning-and-outpost-legalization-for-temporary-moratorium deal has never been announced publically or ever officially confirmed. We may only infer its existence by reviewing the evidence revealed in the last five months. And the evidence is ample and compelling:
First, in three Israeli High Court petitions brought by Palestinian land-owners, Israeli human rights organizations and peace groups, demanding to enforce demolition orders issued against illegal houses built in four outposts, the government has altered its position significantly after the moratorium was declared. While its pre-moratorium position was that the demolition orders must indeed be carried out but that the court should leave it to the government to choose the timing, its post-moratorium position was that a survey of property rights should be carried out so that it may consider a retroactive legalization of the illegal houses. This new position was presented in the cases of Derech Ha’avot, Rechelim, Haresha and Hayovel–all outposts built illegally (even by Israel’s own definition of what constitutes illegality in the Occupied Territories) and without official governmental approval.
Secondly, in about a dozen other petitions pending in the Israeli High Court of Justice, where demolition orders against illegal construction on private Palestinian land are at stake, and therefore legalization of those buildings is not an option, the government also made a significant position change. Its pre-moratorium position was that demolitions should be carried out according to prioritization that is to yet be set. It took the government more than three years to present before the High Court the demolition enforcement priority principles it adopted. However, shortly afterwards, the moratorium was declared and the government announced that during the moratorium period the priority document is suspended. Why? Because “all energy, resources and manpower is dedicated to the enforcement of the moratorium”. Making sure the settlers do not build in violation of the moratorium, the government told the High Court, makes it impossible for us to deal with old illegal construction.
Op-ed, Nahum Barnea, Yediot, May 10-10 [Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]
Last Wednesday, MK Danny Danon (Likud) notified me that Netanyahu was going to make a dramatic decision on the matter of the settlement outposts. I thrive on dramas. I called the defense minister’s media adviser, Barak Seri, and asked whether a dramatic decision on this issue, which is under the responsibility of the defense minister, was in the offing. Seri checked and reassured me: The defense minister is safely ensconced at home, there is no discussion, no meeting, no change, nothing to report.
I was reassured. On Friday afternoon, the defense minister notified the High Court of Justice that the state was considering legalizing the construction in the settlement outposts Hayovel and Haresha, subject to a land survey that would determine whether the land belonged to Arabs or was state owned. The Prime Minister’s Bureau took the trouble to inform the media that the statement had been given. “Congratulations,” said Danon, a member of the right wing opposition in the Likud. Congratulations were also voiced by Shlomit Peretz, a resident of Givat Hayovel, the widow of Maj. Eliraz Peretz who fell in Gaza, and by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat.
As for the defense minister, he issued a series of announcements intended to clarify that this was groundless. “There has been no change since the defense minister’s statement to the High Court of Justice this past January,” he determines in his announcements. “The reports that the settlement outposts Hayovel and Haresha would be legalized are not true… this is misleading.”
What is the truth? There are countries in which such a gap between the prime minister’s version and the defense minister’s version would dismantle the government. But Israel is not like all other countries. Not only is there no dispute between Netanyahu and Barak in this case, it would appear that there is full coordination between them.
This is a game, a great Israeli bluff. When the High Court of Justice called upon Barak, after endless delays, to announce when he would evacuate the settlement outposts that are illegal according to his own lists, he searched for a good excuse for another postponement. The excuse that he found was that a survey should be conducted. The survey would determine which houses in the settlement outposts were located on state land, and which houses were located on private Palestinian land.
There is no survey, but there is a lie. The Civil Administration knows full well what belongs to whom in the outposts. Regarding Givat Hayovel, for example, they know that most of the houses were built on state lands, and some of them, including Peretz’s house and the house of Roi Klein, who fell in Lebanon, were built on private Palestinian land.
The settlers of the Givat Hayovel settlement outpost, like the settlers of other outposts, invaded lands that did not belong to them. The question of whether the lands presently belong to the state or to private owners is secondary. Either way, they are squatters whom the state has promised, both to the High Court of Justice and to the Americans, to remove.
The trouble is that Netanyahu and Barak are caught up in contradicting commitments: Netanyahu committed himself to the right wing section of his party that it would be all right, in the end everything would be legalized, and Barak made a commitment both to the High Court and to the Obama administration that it would be all right, everything would be removed. They decided to send another false letter to the High Court of Justice. Netanyahu explained what he explained to Benny Begin, and Barak explained what he explained to George Mitchell. They have a division of labor.
The Israeli settlements in the territories have been managed by this method for the past 43 years. Netanyahu and Barak are no different from [Yigal] Alon, Peres or Sharon. The problem is that the situation has changed. The crisis of confidence between Netanyahu and the Obama administration has greatly reduced the government’s room for action. Netanyahu promised transparency: He would tell the Americans the whole truth. Barak was sent to Washington to persuade the Americans that the age of deception had ended. The proof is that when a freeze is declared, the freeze is real, down to the last lot in Ariel.
The transparency stopped when it came to the settlement outposts. They could not evacuate them as they had promised, and could not honestly tell the Americans that they were unable to do so. Instead, they winked to everyone, including the High Court of Justice, whose champion Barak purports to be.
Winks have their price. Mitchell can smile to the cameras in the prime minister’s office or the defense minister’s office, he also knows how to wink when necessary, but his administration exacts the price in other places. The administration is steadily distancing itself from any step that could block Iran’s nuclear armament. At the same time, the administration is making it possible, out of malice or weakness, to place Israel’s nuclear ambiguity on the international agenda.
Netanyahu has recently been promoting Bible studies, which is a laudable action. Perhaps he should return to Genesis chapter 25. It tells how Esau, Jacob’s weak-willed brother, sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. The Biblical author states his opinion in one brief sentence: “And he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.”
In a Yediot op-ed Thursday (May 6 2010) defense analyst Alex Fishman warned that the “settlement freeze” was a ticking time bomb that would derail diplomatic negotiations come September. In a feature for the Friday Political Supplement of Yediot’s competition, Maariv, Shalom Yerushalmi provided plenty of evidence for the assertion (full text at bottom.)
Touring the West Bank with Israel’s Transportation Minister, MK Yisrael Katz (Likud), Yerushalmi noted that the settlers he met were surprisingly happy:
They will benefit twofold [from the freeze]. They will have completed the old and will begin the new, this time, with no restrictions. Moreover, during the freeze, exceptions committees were formed which gave permits to all who needed (and after all, everyone needed) and paid compensation to anyone who was hurt. Is there a downside? No wonder that the large demonstrations that the settlers held last December opposite Netanyahu’s residence faded away. The protest tent opposite the Prime Minister’s Office was also dismantled with the same speed it was put up. At this rate, they will yet ask for another construction freeze period.
Katz then explained how this state of affairs was perfectly in line with Israeli government policy:
As far as Katz (55), a graduate of the Or Etzion high school yeshiva, is concerned, there is no problem or anything unusual going on. He believes in expanding the settlements, in connecting them to each other, in creating large blocs. At one of the observation points he went to, he promised to merge Karnei Shomron, Alonei Shilo, Yakir and the other settlements in the area into one large bloc numbering 30,000 settlers. “The Jews will continue to live here forever and ever, even in a peace agreement, no settlement will be removed,” Katz said. “Those who want peace have to compromise over this area.”
And that Netanyahu, even Obama, were on board:
Q: Is Netanyahu pleased with what you’re doing here?
“Yes. We agreed that in every place where there are building starts, they will continue. Everything is being done openly. If people want to hold negotiations with us, they shouldn’t pose preconditions.”
Q: President Obama won’t like to hear your pronouncements.
“An American president was elected. He has a different agenda, but he still views Israel as an ally. He knows that we are the only anchor he can depend on in all his battles against Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. On who else can he rely? On Egypt? Does anyone know what will happen there after Mubarak? On Saudi Arabia, where the terrorists came from who committed the terror attack on the World Trade Center? You need to have a lot of acumen in talking to the Americans, you need a lot of skill. Netanyahu has not removed a single settlement, he will renew construction in September, he will not freeze construction in Jerusalem. I tell you that in the end, the argument will not be over Karnei Shomron or Immanuel, and not even over Jerusalem.”
Shalom Yerushalmi, Maariv Friday Political Supplement, May 7 2010 [Hebrew original here]
In a week in which indirect peace talks were supposed to get underway, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz went on a tour of Samaria and mainly displayed great proximity to the settlers. At the same opportunity, he stuck a finger in the Palestinians’ eyes. “The construction momentum in Judea and Samaria is the same as when it was at its peak,” Katz announced happily to Likud activists in the settlement of Revava on Tuesday evening. “Thousands of housing units are being built everywhere. I never liked the freeze. Nobody in the security cabinet likes the freeze. It was a mistake. You can’t take people and freeze them. That is no solution. The government will ensure that the construction momentum will resume this September. In any case, I know that as far as I am concerned, there is no freeze.”Katz toured the settlements for an entire day to observe the great construction boom already taking place on the ground, precisely at a time that the state is trying to show the world that it is limiting construction. The freeze, it turns out, was simply an opportunity to unfreeze land and prepare it for construction. The government froze new houses but allowed the settlers to complete houses for which the foundations had been laid. The result on the ground is unimaginable. Thousands of settlers rushed to work on what they had begun, before any new edicts could arrive.
“The rabbis told us not to stop work. To continue to bang with the hammers, even on Yom Kippur,” relates Avi Cohen from Har Bracha, the chairman of the Likud branch in Samaria.
The freeze will end this September. Avi Cohen and his buddies will begin to build foundations. They will benefit twofold. They will have completed the old and will begin the new, this time, with no restrictions. Moreover, during the freeze, exceptions committees were formed which gave permits to all who needed (and after all, everyone needed) and paid compensation to anyone who was hurt. Is there a downside? No wonder that the large demonstrations that the settlers held last December opposite Netanyahu’s residence faded away. The protest tent opposite the Prime Minister’s Office was also dismantled with the same speed it was put up. At this rate, they will yet ask for another construction freeze period.
Everyone in Samaria is smiling. Sometimes openly, sometimes with a wink, usually with satisfaction. Even the claims, perhaps justified, about buildings that had become stuck in the middle, about money that had been lost, about unsuitable trailers in which entire families were crowded, about young couples who could find no place to live, bumpy access roads and all the rest—become lost in the face of this expansion enterprise, which appears to have no end. Minister Katz himself inaugurates roads there costing tens of millions of shekels as if there were no tomorrow, he renovates access roads and builds traffic circles in the style that he appears to have inherited from Ariel Sharon, with whom he worked for a long time in the 1980s.
The percentages always work in the settlers’ favor. On Monday, for example, building inspectors arrived at a Shavei Shomron neighborhood along with directors of the Civil Administration, and demolished six illegal temporary structures. Samaria Regional Council Chairman Gershon Mesika was quick to accuse Defense Minister Ehud Barak, “who wants to show the people in his party that he is doing something.” Barak is the man the settlers hate most at this time, as the person still poking a stick in the wheels of the trucks bringing the trailers, and here and there, stopping construction. “For me, he is a minister in the Palestinian Authority,” one settler woman from Revava told Katz.
In the afternoon, Katz went to Kedumim. Offsetting the six buildings destroyed in Shave Shomron, it immediately turned out that settlement secretary, Hananel Durani, is about to establish a new neighborhood in the coming days, all legal and aboveboard. Durani, a deputy brigade commander in reserves, welcomed Katz in a eucalyptus grove at the entrance to Kedumim, hung a large map of the settlement on one of the trees and lectured to his guest military style, as if about to leave for a navigation exercise. “We will build another 400 housing units in Kedumim,” he promised. “In a month, I’ll be bringing in the machines and building the northern neighborhood.”
“How many units,” Katz asked.
“56,” replied Durani.
“Are there foundations?”
“Did the defense minister sign?”
“Very good, forward.”
He believes in expansion
Op-ed, Alex Fishman [defense correspondent], Yediot, May 6 2010
The opening was supposed to be a bit more festive. After all, the negotiations with the Palestinians are being renewed after a year and a half of a breakdown of communication. True, these are only proximity talks, a kind of indirect negotiations, but we are finally returning to the table. Both sides, however, are behaving as if the talks were forced upon them, as if they are doing the Americans a favor, despite the fact that for both Netanyahu and Abu Mazen, the renewal of the talks is a political oxygen balloon. So the Palestinians do not know when they are coming, and Netanyahu wants to talk about water rather than borders — in brief, we are starting off limply, which bodes ill for the future.
If the proximity talks are beginning in a cloudy atmosphere of uncertainty, their end — paradoxically enough — is much clearer. In four months, what lies in wait for us is an explosive charge that no one is thinking about how to start to disarm: Towards the end of September, the period of the construction freeze in the territories will end. But the government is burying its head in the sand and waiting for a miracle.
Anyone who believes that fear of the government has suddenly befallen the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and therefore they have been maintaining relative quiet until now in the face of the construction freeze — is somewhere between a dupe and a fool. It is not the firm hand of the police, or even the diligence of the Civil Administration inspectors. This quiet has only one reason: The council chairmen in Judea and Samaria and the residents are convinced that at the end of September, all the dams will be broken down and thousands of new buildings will rise on every hilltop. This is what they have been promised. It was neither hinted nor implied, this is what cabinet ministers said to them explicitly. No one is preparing them for the possibility that the situation could be different.
The battle against the freeze started with very strident tones. Three months before the freeze, local construction committees already met for days on end, approving plans. And so, on the day the freeze began, when a UAV was sent to film the area, it discovered hundreds of foundations for new buildings. A battle was waged over these housing starts in the first weeks of the freeze, until the settlers realized that it was all eyewash. That they should calm down. The construction may be halted for a short time, but then everything will be permitted, and even more.
They had something to cling to, because the freeze was not complete. The construction of 300 housing units in Beitar Illit, which was approved in 2008, was not stopped, and the construction of schools, synagogues and ritual baths continued. True, the construction in urban settlements was frozen, but the construction of private residential houses in the settlements continued. Moreover: No illegal settlement outpost was removed. It is true that building expansions were prevented in several places, but no illegal house that was built was demolished. The argument was that the outposts and the illegal construction were not being touched, because all the efforts were being put into enforcing the freeze. So all of the 87 illegal settlements that remained from the Talia Sasson report—are still there.
The council chairmen in Judea and Samaria were recently given planning powers. They cannot approve construction, but they can plan. And during the freeze, plans were prepared on a huge scale, and these are awaiting, at the end of the pipeline, for the day the order will be given. And that day is known to all: The end of the freeze period, on September 25. And what if they are not given authorization to build?
No one is preparing for the possibility that the proximity talks will develop into direct talks, which are contingent on the continuation of the construction freeze. No one is willing to face up to the settlers and say to them: Israel made a commitment to the US not to make any unilateral moves on the issue of construction in the territories, without coordinating with them in advance, so that neither side surprises the other. If the settlers want to blow up the coalition and break up the relations with the US, this will be their opportunity. The Israeli government, as usual, is neither willing nor able to cope with them.
Shabak unveils its response to settler terror: “warning talks” (law enforcement resources tied-up elsewhere)
This morning’s (December 13 2009) Haaretz (Hebrew edition only) runs a report by Amos Harel, which describes a new method the General Security Service (GSS) has found to crack down on settler attacks on Palestinians
Haaretz has learned that over the past three months five right-wing activists were summoned to warning talks [sic], where they were told by GSS men that they saw them as responsible for the ‘Price Tag‘ events.
Hopefully the GSS sees this a long-term law enforcement technique because, judging by this weekend’s pyrotechnics, it has yet bear fruit. The perpetrators themselves do not appear fazed. This Friday’s Jewish Voice, a weekly ‘Price Tag‘ organization leaflet (Hebrew original here,) has a monologue by one Efraim Ben Shohat describing his GSS interrogation. It ends with the following passage
But it turns out that even the General Security Service of the State of Israel, comprised of expert psychologists and the best and smartest professionals in the country cannot overcome a simple Jew who believes in blessed G-d!
In its report “A Semblance of Law,” Yesh Din describes in detail the systematic lack of law enforcement on violent settlers. One of its major recommendations is that the West Bank Police actually investigate attacks and that minimal resources be allocated for this purpose. Until that happens, “warning talks” and hand-wringing will have to fill the gap.
Even at this juncture, it’s hard to demand diversion of law enforcement resources to the West Bank when they are stretched so thin in Jerusalem, for example. Just this Friday, dozens of officers were busy arresting 25 Israelis protesting against the Shiekh Jarah evictions who refused to disperse when ordered to. Some of them were even forced to squirt pepper spray into the eyes of the dangerous Dr. Eyal Nir at point-blank range (video here.) Holding cells are also in short supply, full of menaces to society such as Vadim Antonevich, a documentary film-maker slapped with 25 days for walking his dog without a leash in the German Colony.
From a report in this morning’s Maariv (December 13 2009) by Amir Buhbut
“This is a religious terror attack,” said a senior officer in the Central Command. “The people who tossed the firebombs knew exactly what they were doing…Furthermore, the security establishment is voicing harsh criticism of the incitement being heard in Judea and Samaria synagogues. “Anyone allowing the distribution of leaflets that call to harm Civil Administration officials and their vehicles, should not be surprised when a mosque is set on fire,” said the source. “It is interesting to wonder what the reactions would be if it were the opposite.”
Yediot’s Zvi Zinger reports directly from the horses mouth
“The idea of a ‘price tag’ is to operate like the terror organizations,” explained one of the activists from the settlement outposts. “The activists realized that the GSS doesn’t have the capacity to prevent lone activists from executing those operations, and that is why a decision was made to take sophisticated action, without orderly leaders and without any prior organization.”
Puts the outrage over the New York Times use of “Jewish nationalists” to describe settlers into proportion, doesn’t it?