Why Israel will thwart Obama on settlements
For the Jewish state, the settlements are eminently sensible and their growth is almost certain to continue, either openly or stealthily.
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Does any serious observer of the region believe that Israel's appetite for land – owned and occupied for generations by Palestinians – is going to abate?
The Israeli land grab has continued for four decades, in defiance of international law and most US presidents. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has been trying to secure a halt, but his efforts follow a well-worn path that typically ends in charade.
Just weeks ago, the Israeli government evicted two extended Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem, clearing the way for more houses for Jews in traditionally Palestinian neighborhoods.
Israeli settlements have become a kind of concrete kudzu to Palestinians. The Fatah party recently renewed its commitment to resisting them, holding that "the Palestinians have the right to resist the Israeli occupation by all possible means."
But for the Jewish state, the settlements are eminently sensible and their growth is almost certain to continue, either openly or stealthily. As Interior Minister Eli Yishai put it Aug. 10, expanding settlements near Jerusalem is vital for "security, national interests, and is just and necessary."
Every new Jewish apartment complex enlarges and deepens the Jewish footprint on occupied land. The California-style townhouses atop the hills of ancient Samaria and Judea are seen as security buffers for an Israeli island in a hostile Islamic sea. Israel's feeling of vulnerability is intensified by the growing Arab population already within its borders.
The settlements have become affordable suburbs for Israelis otherwise priced out of the metropolitan markets. More than 300,000 Jewish settlers now call the West Bank home.
Further, religious and ultrareligious Jewish settlers insist they have divinely bestowed title to the land. Few passages in the Bible are more frightening to Arabs than Deuteronomy 11:24:
"Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be."
Palestinian Arabs are too weak to legally or militarily challenge the Jewish state's internal expansion. An Israeli court recently ruled that Israel can now confiscate land belonging to Palestinians who once resided in an area but are now refugees pending final settlement.
Having lived in Jerusalem for five years during the salad days of the peace process in the 1990s, I watched settlement builders nibble away at what were once Palestinian homes, villages, and pastures.