The struggle for the West Bank; Israel cements its hold on the West Bank
Barqan, Israeli-occupied West Bank — Under the Camp David accords, the rest of Sinai is due to be returned to Egypt this April. The main focus of Camp David -- and of the world -- then switches to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
In a series of articles starting today, the Monitor examines Israeli rule in the West Bank, details the steady increase in Jewish settlements there, and assesses the impact of all this on the Arabs and Israelis who live in the disputed territory.
It was an unlikely setting for a historic event.
Rain pelted a drab green Army tent. Underneath, Israeli political figures munched hors d'oeuvres. Mud flecked the suede boots of women dignitaries.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin, a bulky raincoat dwarfing his small frame, clasped a pair of scissors of the type sold in any Israeli hardware store, and strode to the center of an adjacent road. With one neat snip, he cut a ribbon dyed in blue and white, Israel's national colors:
The Trans-Samaria highway was officially open.
It is not much as highways go. It has only two lanes, no motels, no truck stops. It runs for barely 35 miles. A few of those miles are yet to be paved.
But the new asphalt artery from Israel through the upper part of the West Bank -- like Barqan and other Jewish settlements along the way -- serves concrete notice of the Begin government's ultimate aim in the disputed territory: to annex it in everything but name.
''You've been here in the past few years and have seen,'' an official who knows Mr. Begin well remarked evenly to this reporter. ''Gradually we have been managing to erase the physical distinction between the coastal area (of Israel) and Judaea and Samaria,'' as Israel calls the West Bank area captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
''We haven't completely succeeded yet. But give us three or four or five years, and you'll drive out there and you won't be able to findm the West Bank.'' There will, he said, be only one territory -- all of it the state of Israel.
The closer that goal gets, the more remote seem the chances of any workable compromise in the long-deadlocked talks among Israeli, Egyptian, and US negotiators on ''full autonomy'' for the West Bank's roughly 800,000 Palestinian Arabs.
Another, already unlikely, prospect - expansion of the negotiating process to include further Arab parties - will become all but impossible.
The autonomy scheme, provided for in the US-sponsored Camp David accords of 1978, was to be a transitional one, pending later talks on the ''final status'' of the territory.
The Egyptians ultimately want self-determination, not merely autonomy, for the Palestinians. Other Arabs, even the most moderate, insist explicitly on a full-fledged Palestinian state. The Americans, for their part, hold at least that the issue should be left genuinely open.
The Israelis have no such intention, and don't hide it.
''For us or the Egyptians or anyone else to believe otherwise is just plain grasping at straws,'' laments one US diplomat privately.
The Israelis' hope is that their steady integration of the West Bank into ''the rest of our country'' will prod the Palestinians to accept autonomy on Israel's own strictly limited terms. One Israeli official puts it privately: ''The Palestinians should begin to realize, in effect, they have very few shopping days left till Christmas.''
Over the past 18 months, the Israelis have been driving home this point not only with words, but also, increasingly, with action:
* The number of Jewish settlements on the West Bank -- standing at 65 when the Monitor printed a settlement-by-settlement survey in early 1980 -- has jumped to 88, as detailed in the explanatory stories and map accompanying this article. (In the spring of 1980, Mr. Begin said in an interview with this and a group of other American journalists that only 10 more settlements were planned. ''You can publish it, . . . and I think the Americans in Congress and in the [ Carter] administration will be very glad to hear. . . . The problem is finished.'')
* In addition to rooting more Jewish settlements, often on land claimed by Palestinian farmers, the Israelis have been seeking to shift many more settlers into them. One focus of this campaign has been so-called bedroom settlements designed to house commuters working in cities within Israel's pre-1967 border.
The government is also providing West Bank land for do-it-yourself home builders, giving settlers an alternative to the drab cement rectangles long typical of the rapidly erected Jewish outposts. The do-it-yourself scheme is to be centered on settlements within comfortable commuting distance of Israeli cities.
The option should prove attractive, since Israelis can generally contract nicer homes for less money on the West Bank than within Israel proper. Officials also hope the scheme will free the government to concentrate more of its multimillion-dollar settlement budget on attracting Jews to the more remote parts of the territory.
* The government has moved to connect the settlements, once dependent on water tanks and local generators, to the electricity and water systems of Israel proper. (Recently, pressure also has been exerted on some Arab villages to hook up with Israel. The Israelis have barred these Palestinians from setting up their own generators and, in other cases, from drilling new wells.) In one village near the Arab town of Nalus, in the northeast corner of the West Bank, the authorities recently detained one Palestinian briefly for hooking up a local generator, diplomats here say.
* Jewish ''regional councils'' have been set up throughout the West Bank to oversee settlement affairs. The settlements also have their own, Israeli, court system. Settlers have been given the right to detain neighboring Arabs in some circumstances -- for instance, if they refuse to show proper identification -- for transfer to the occupation authorities.
* And the Trans-Samaria road has formally been opened. Another road, plowed in a north-south direction by Mr. Begin's Labor Party predecessors, has recently been paved. The setting up of a further road link, from Israel through the southern portion of the West Bank, is also under way.
The roads are important to Israel's West Bank strategy for two reasons. Clearly, they help physically to bind the rocky heights, terraced hillsides, fruit groves, and desert lowlands of the territory to pre-1967 Israel. But at the same time the road links cut down travel time between the two areas, facilitating attempts to people a number of the Jewish settlements with commuters.
The West Bank's 14 years of occupation have also linked the area with Israel in another way -- economic.
Many Palestinians on the West Bank, which lacks a firm economic base of its own, commute into Israel to work. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see Arabs at work on the Jewish settlements they fear and oppose, or, more recently, on settlers' ''do it yourself'' homes.
Arab shopkeepers, too, market Israeli goods.
For the Palestinians, angry and resigned in about equal measure, all of this has a haunting sense of deja vu about it.Modern Israel itself, like the West Bank of today, began with a Jewish minority on largely Arab Palestinian territory. As the years passed, more and more Jews returned to claim the land the Bible says is theirs. Small settlements became large settlements, then separate settlements, and finally -- with a United Nations endorsement and the Arab defeat in a 1948 war -- a Jewish state.
The issues, then and now, are much the same. Arabs who have farmed Palestinian land for centuries say Jews, wielding the Bible as their title deed, have no right to evict them. The Jews say the land is theirs. There was, after all, a Jewish state in Palestine in biblical times. Driven into diaspora, persecuted for centuries afterward until Adolf Hitler put 6 million of their number to death, the Jews finally redeemed their dream of a revived Israeli state. At least some of them, Mr. Begin most definitely included, view a permanent hold on the West Bank as central to the protection of that dream and that state.
Publicly, Israeli officials stress security reasons for holding on to the West Bank. They argue that, whatever the eventual peace terms offered by Arab neighbors, to return the territory to Arab control would mean reverting to Israel's ''precariously'' narrow pre-1967 frontiers.
To skeptical critics within Israel and abroad, the Begin government argues further that West Bank settlements are, in effect, security outposts -- this, no doubt, partly in a bid to skirt the fourth Geneva Convention's provision that an ''occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.''
''Begin's determination to hold on to Judaea and Samaria comes from his soul. . . . It is part of him,'' says one Israeli associate.
Israeli settlers are still a small minority on the West Bank. Estimates of their number range from about 10,000 to 20,000. Most diplomats cite a figure roughly halfway in between.
Much has changed since the early 1900s, when the Jews began laying the foundations for the state they would establish a half-century later. Fewer Jews are emigrating to Israel, and fewer still share the Begin government's zeal for ''thickening'' the Jewish presence amid resentful West Bank Arabs.
Indeed, even some Israelis fear that if the Begin policy succeeds too well, Mr. Begin may risk an even greater ''security threat'' than the one he says he is preventing -- by creating a single state that, with West Bankers factored in, will slowly and inevitably become more Arab and less Jewish.
Yet even without making the West Bank ''as Jewish as Tel Aviv'' -- the ultimate fear among Palestinians - Mr. Begin is already managing to tie the area to Israel so tightly as to make the emergence of any truly independent Arab polity more difficult by the day. Israel's blueprint for the West Bank
''The best and most effective way to remove even the slightest doubt of the intention to hold Judaea and Samaria forever is enhanced (Jewish) settlement in these areas.''
The prescription comes from Matityahu Drobles, head of the World Zionist Organization's settlement division and a key architect of Menachem Begin's settlement policy in the West Bank territory captured by Israel in June 1967.
Mr. Begin, who came to power 10 years later, inherited about 30 West Bank settlements from the former Labor Party government.
By September 1978, when the Camp David summit sealed an accord on transitional Palestinian autonomy for the area, he had added 20 Jewish settlements there.
Since then roughly 35 more have been established -- about two-thirds of these in the past 18 months.
More settlements are planned -- and expected. This would seem all the more likely since the new coalition formed by Mr. Begin after June 1981 elections here is more solidly behind West Bank settlement than its predecessor. And the Reagan administration in Washington has been much less vocal than was former President Carter in opposing the settlements.
The settlements themselves still occupy only a tiny percentage of the West Bank's land. But at least one-third of the territory, according to Arab and Israeli estimates, has been sequestered for these outposts, for ''security'' reasons or for further Jewish settlement.
But numbers tell only part of the story.
The Israeli Labor Party coalition that preceded Mr. Begin in power had entertained hopes of an eventual peace with Jordan involving the return to King Hussein of the populated heartland of the West Bank, with Israel holding onto most of the remainder of the territory. Thus most Labor-era settlements were in the more sparsely populated areas.
Mr. Begin, who has never made any secret of his determination to retain control of the entire territory, focused his settlement policy on the heart of the West Bank.
Settlement theorist Drobles, in a 1978 plan drawn up almost literally before the ink on the Camp David accords was dry, refined this policy and mapped out dozens of prospective Jewish settlements in ''blocks'' encircling the West Bank's major Arab towns and straddling the border between the West Bank and pre- 1967 Israel. This, he reasoned, would deter local Arabs from uniting, territorially or politically, into a coherent entity.
Mr. Drobles's blueprint requires settlement-by-settlement approval of the Begin Cabinet. But so far, the government settlement policy has jibed very nearly with the Drobles plan (see map).
The plan, with written comments by Mr. Drobles, has been reissued and updated a number of times since 1978. The most significant change has been to add a further proposed ''settlement block'' in the northeast corner of the disputed territory.
What has not changed is Mr. Drobles's -- and Mr. Begin's -- conviction that Jewish settlement is the key to assuring continued Israeli control over the West Bank.
Particularly in light of the talks on Palestinian autonomy, Mr. Drobles writes in a recent update of his settlement plan, ''it is incumbent upon us to run a race against time. . . .
''The facts which we will continue to establish [on the ground] will determine more than any other factor the fate . . . of Judaea and Samaria.''
''There must not be the slightest doubt of our intention to hold the areas of Judaea and Samaria forever.'' Is a gas station a settlement?
It is easier for Israel to establish West Bank settlements than for outsiders to count them.
Not all surveys agree on what a settlement is or, for that matter, just where the West Bank begins and ends.
Is a gas station on occupied territory a settlement?
How about a nature reserve?
Or an industrial park?
And how about Jewish communities in the mostly Arab eastern part of Jerusalem -- the divided city that was reunited and annexed by Israel after the same 1967 war that gave the Israelis the West Bank?
The Jerusalem count is further complicated because the Israelis, in annexing the city, expanded its boundaries to take in areas that fell within what were then the municipal boundaries of the Arab West Bank towns of Ramallah and Bethlehem.
Western diplomats here have come increasingly to count all the above Israeli developments as settlements -- arguing that all are relevant to the Geneva Convention bar on demographic and land changes by an occupying power.
For the purpose of the current Monitor series on the West Bank, however, only residential settlements are included in the overall settlement count. Jerusalem settlements, too, are left out. This is to facilitate comparison with a February 1980 Monitor survey of the West Bank.
All other outposts built, under construction, or officially dedicated at time of writing are included in the tally.
In February 1980 the total stood at 65, with settlement No. 66 apparently under way near the Arab town of Hebron. Indeed, it was. That outpost and many more have sprouted since. The total is now 88. Preliminary clearing seems to be under way for a further settlement in the so-called ''Givon Block'' northwest of Jerusalem.
Recent Israeli press reports also speak of plans for a large new settlement -- several thousand units -- overlooking the twin Arab towns of Ramallah and El Birah north of Jerusalem. Originally, the site was to be only an ''administrative center'' for existing Jewish settlements in the area.
Here is a sampling of the 16 Israeli establishments that fall outside the current Monitor settlement survey:
* Gilo. This largest single settlement in the area captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war has a population of about 6,000. Eventually, it is to have 48,000 people. Gilo is on land near the road south to Bethlehem -- included in the unilaterally expanded Jerusalem city limits. The land includes areas formerly worked by Arab villagers and appropriated by Israeli authorities.
* Hadassah building. This abandoned building in the heart of the Arab town of Hebron on the West Bank was taken over by women and children from a nearby Jewish settlement in April 1979. It housed a Jewish clinic before a 1929 massacre drove the minority Jewish population from Hebron. The Begin government has declared the settlement illegal but has helped supply food and other necessities to the settlers, who were still in place at this writing.
* The Jordan Valley service center. This is a gas station, food store, and snack bar serving the string of Israeli agricultural settlements along the arid Jordan River Valley, on the eastern edge of the West Bank. There appears to be no permanent resident population.