Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Ariel Sharon Ignores U.S. President, Announces Plans to Maintain Israeli Settlement Blocs in the Occupied West Bank

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (left), the hawkish former Israel Defense Forces' general and lifetime Likudnik, met with U.S President George W. Bush yesterday (4/11/05) in Crawford, Texas. The two world leaders discussed a variety of things, including Iran and the stalling Israeli-Palestinian/Arab peace process. However, perhaps the most revealing thing to come out of the meeting was Sharon's blunt statement that the Israeli state intends to maintain its control over large settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank in any final status agreement with the Palestinians. "[We intend] to keep areas that seem strategic to Israel," Sharon is quoted as saying by the Associated Press wire.

At a press conference, Bush said, "I've been very clear. Israel has an obligation under the Road Map [peace plan;" that's no expansion of settlements."

Bush's statement is welcome, but the main problem with his administration's policy (and frankly all U.S. policy historically) toward the issue of Israeli settlements is one of action. Although the official policies of every U.S. Presidential administration has been against the spread of Israeli settlements, very little action has been taken to prevent it. As a result, successive Israeli governments, both Labor and Likud, have been able to continue Israeli land grabs in the West Bank and, until recently, in the Gaza Strip, with little threat that the U.S. would intervene. In the two decades, the number of Israeli settlers (pictured left abusing Palestinian woman), a substantial percentage of them Americans, in the Palestinian Territories has more than doubled and is currently hovering around a quarter million.

Without first a real freeze in Israeli settlement activity, followed by a staged withdrawal/pullback from the vast majority of these settlement blocs, there will be no peace. The Palestinian people will not accept, nor should they, continued Israeli presence on land occupied by force in June 1967. The international community, by and large, considers Israeli settlements and their continued growth to be illegal and detrimental to the peace process. Yet the U.S., Israel's main foreign patron (to the tune of over $3 billion a year in aid and another $10 billion in guaranteed loans) has thus far refused to put real pressure on any Israeli government to stop and remove settlements and their expansion.

Sharon, knowing the historical record of U.S. inaction on the issue of settlements, thus felt comfortable in dismissing Bush's comments. Sharon was clear: Israel will leave the Gaza Strip and a few settlements in the northern West Bank, but will keep the large settlement blocs such as Ariel, Itamar, and those near Hebron, as well as Ma'ale Adumim, the largest settlement (located outside of Jerusalem.)

For more on Sharon and Bush's meeting, see:

For more information on Israeli settlements, including maps, see: