"Israel's big mistake", IHT April 27-28, 2002, NYT editorial
Letter to the Editor, re: "Israel's big mistake"

And if the Palestinians really cried uncle?

If indeed it is a "big mistake“ not to budge on the settlements issue (4/27-28/02), it also entails unintended and unexpected effects.  For the Palestinians may thus be driven to recognize and draw the consequences of the current gridlook over overlapping land and religious claims.  They may take time out and deliberately create a void.  And to come back only when the changes thus brought about will include the fundamentals in Palestine.

Inspired by the regeneration their exiled Jewish brethren experienced some 2600 years ago in Babylon, the Palestinians might accept the offer to temporarily emigrate to Saddam-free territory between the two rivers (www.solami.com/mvc.htm).  And to build up their own state and economy.  Not from handouts.  But from developing a leased patch of fertile oil-bearing land.  From helping to rebuild the sanctions-damaged infrastructure.  And from assisting in the recovery of the lost generations of equally short-shrifted, down-trodden and forgotten peoples (.../PLATO.htm).

It Aint Necessarily So!

Prime Minister Sharon's hardball is not following the fashionable land-for-peace script.  Reportedly, he refuses to consider abandoning any Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Gaza.  As your editorial suggests (April 27-28, 02), this may indeed turn out to be "Israel's big mistake" - albeit for other reasons, and with consequences differing from those projected.

Not that a chance for real and lasting peace is thus being missed.  And not that the explosiveness of the gridlocked situation, that the no-future syndrom and that the Palestinians' prevailing misery in the contested lands, would finally move their brethren into meaningful action.  But that the Palestinians should not be underestimated in their capacity to take matters effectively into their own hand - not on the military, but on the political front where they have a real chance.  By stopping to rely on others (who necessarily follow their own agenda).  By looking more closely at their own roots and preparing for their future on a thus strengthened basis of their own (www.solami.com/SLM.htm).  And by drawing inspiration from history (e.g. "Deprive your enemy of his enemy and your enemy will disappear!").

Indeed - and assuming this to be desirable at all - could Israel really survive as a religion-based state, if the Palestinians took the initiative and (without giving up any rights or claims) let their Jewish brethren invest their energies into building in Palestine whatever and wherever they please?  All the while those Palestinians so desiring would accept the already-extended invitation of the Mosul Vilayet Council (representing Northern Iraq's Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds and Turkomans; .../mvc.htm) to temporarily emigrate to the latter's Saddam-free territory (.../pal.htm).  To set up their internationally recognizable - and recognized - homeland temporarily between the two rivers, on an oil-bearing and fertile patch of land, leased for a generation or two.  And to build up their own state and economy not from handouts.  But from oil exports.  From helping to rebuild the sanctions-damaged infrastructure.  And from assisting in the education and recovery of the lost generations of equally short-shrifted, down-trodden and forgotten peoples.

Atoni Mustafa, Permanent Representative of the Mosul Vilayet
to International Organizations, Geneva
www.solami.com/mvc.htm - swissbit@solami.com
t+f:  +4122-7400362

        April 26, 2002

Israel's Historic Miscalculation

Late last week, senior Israeli Army officers called for uprooting several dozen isolated Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip because of the military burden involved in protecting them. Even though the proposal was focused on Israeli security interests, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon angrily dismissed it at a cabinet meeting, saying that as long as he was in power there would be no discussion of removing a single settlement.

It is hard to imagine a more dispiriting statement for those hoping for a negotiated land-for-peace end to hostilities in the Middle East. If Mr. Sharon sticks to this view he will leave little hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We recognize that this is an exceptionally painful moment in a region where the focus has been on death and human suffering rather than on land. But ultimately this dispute is over land.  Just as terror is the greatest Palestinian threat to Middle East peace, so are settlements on territory captured in the 1967 war the greatest Israeli obstacle to peace. They deprive the Palestinians of prime land and water, break up Palestinian geographic continuity, are hard to defend against Palestinian attack and complicate the establishment of a clear, secure Israeli border.

Before the Oslo peace process began in 1993, settlements were a major American concern. The first President Bush threatened to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees from Israel if it did not freeze its settlement building. The hostility between him and Yitzhak Shamir, then prime minister, over this issue contributed to Mr. Shamir's defeat at the hands of Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.  But for nearly a decade, settlements have earned little American attention. Since Israel and the Palestinians were engaged in peace negotiations, it was assumed that eventually many if not most of the settlements would go, and it was easier not to cause a political crisis by pressuring the Israeli right before a full peace agreement had been reached. The Oslo peace talks broke down, of course, and while primary responsibility for the collapse rests with Yasir Arafat, the settler population in the West Bank and Gaza has nearly doubled, to more than 200,000. This is an immense problem.

Two decades ago most Israelis considered the settlers to be oddballs spurred by messianism and nostalgia for the derring-do of Zionist pioneers. A few thousand and then a few tens of thousands set up cheap mobile homes on windswept hillsides and vowed to double their number. But by the early 1990's, when Mr. Sharon served as housing minister, the situation had changed radically. Aided by government subsidies and other inducements, there were more than 100,000 settlers. For Israelis, settlers were no longer zealots but ordinary fellow citizens. Suddenly their plumber or doctor or neighbor's sister was living in a big semi-detached house in a community on land captured in 1967. Many Israeli maps stopped demarcating the former border.

Today the biggest settlements are real towns, with tens of thousands of inhabitants, major access roads, neighborhoods, shopping malls, industrial parks, even a university. This is in addition to some 200,000 other Israeli Jews who live in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem also captured in 1967. Palestinians consider these to be settlements as well.  In the year that Mr. Sharon has been prime minister, some 35 new settlement outposts have been established, in contravention of his coalition agreement with the Labor Party. Opinion polls show strong Israeli public support for removal of some settlements in exchange for peace, a position embraced by previous Israeli governments. Yet Mr. Sharon refuses to consider such a move.

Mr. Sharon has said he is willing to make "painful compromises" for peace, and has called for a regional peace conference. He has welcomed the Saudi peace framework, which posits the return of all land captured in 1967 in exchange for full diplomatic ties with the Arab world. But to take out of negotiation even the most isolated settlements — this week Mr. Sharon said Netzarim, a Gaza settlement, was the same to him as Tel Aviv — is to undermine the possibility that following his military action, a meaningful political dialogue can begin. The Israeli public and the American government must not turn away from this painful reality. The Palestinian and Arab leadership must also realize that the longer the Palestinians rely on terrorism and fail to return to negotiation, the harder it will be to remove these "facts on the ground."

The Washington Times    4/21/2002                                 www.washtimes.com

Sharon said to want half of West Bank land

     From combined dispatches
     JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to annex up to half of the West Bank under an unpublished plan for the Palestinian territories that he is drawing up with close advisers, a senior minister in his government has said.
     "As far as I know, the strategy is to annex 50 percent of the West Bank [for Israel], and this is incompatible with a two-state solution. It is not realistic," Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh told the London Sunday Telegraph.
     Mr. Sneh, a Labor member in Mr. Sharon's coalition government, spoke at the end of a week in which Israel began winding up its largest military operation in the West Bank in more than 30 years.
      Israeli tanks and armored vehicles yesterday began pulling out of Nablus, the largest West Bank city, and parts of Ramallah. But in a resurgence of violence, a Palestinian gunman and an Israeli policeman died in a clash at a Gaza border crossing and another Palestinian blew himself up near a border checkpoint.
     The London newspaper reported that Mr. Sneh's remarks were a strong indication that the Israeli prime minister prefers to see a divided, weakened Palestinian entity with far less land than envisioned under previous peace plans.
     Asked about the comments, Danny Ayalon, a senior Sharon aide, said the prime minister would wait for a regional peace conference — which he has called for — to discuss his proposals for Palestinian territory.
     Israel also promised yesterday to cooperate with a United Nations mission to probe its crushing assault on the Jenin refugee camp, saying it had nothing to hide in the face of Palestinian accusations of a massacre. Palestinians said they hoped the U.N. Security Council's unanimous decision Friday to send a "fact-finding" team to the camp could lead to an international criminal trial of Mr. Sharon and others.
     "We have nothing to hide, and we will gladly cooperate with this U.N. inquiry," Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin said after the United States proposed the compromise U.N. resolution.
     Mr. Sharon has played his cards close to his chest over his broader political strategy, saying only that he is prepared to make "painful concessions" to the Palestinians in the interests of long-term peace.
      However, Mr. Sneh's comments will fuel speculation that the prime minister and the Israeli right are hoping to retain most of 150 Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
     Over the years, Mr. Sharon has pushed for annexation of up to 60 percent of the West Bank. When the deadline in the 1993 Oslo accords for creation of a Palestine state expired in May 1999, Mr. Sharon, then foreign minister in the Benjamin Netanyahu government, threatened to annex settlements if the Palestinians declared a state unilaterally.
     Mr. Sneh, a rising figure in Labor ranks, plans to present alternative peace proposals to his party's conference in June, based on land swaps and Palestinian sovereignty over most of the West Bank.
     Labor and the right-wing parties — of which Mr. Sharon's Likud is the largest — have maintained a united front in the anti-terror crackdown. However, Mr. Sneh indicated that rifts over a political settlement could cause the coalition to collapse.
     Last week, Mr. Sharon called for an international peace conference, but demanded the exclusion of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Ayalon, one of the prime minister's closest advisers, said he would not be drawn into revealing details of any plans to offer the Palestinians a peace deal.
     President Bush yesterday said Israel must press ahead with its withdrawal from Palestinian cities but did not repeat earlier demands for an immediate end to the offensive.
     "All parties must realize that the only long-term solution is for two states — Israel and Palestine — to live side by side in security and peace. This will require hard choices and real leadership by Israelis and Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address.
     Asked about Mr. Sharon's reported annexation plan, a senior State Department official, requesting anonymity, told The Washington Times that "there may be all kinds of Israeli ideas," but no one should "get wedded to any one specific plan."
     The official said the emphasis is on convincing Israel to "implement a complete withdrawal" from Palestinian towns and on convincing Palestinians to "take responsibility for getting the violence down and the political process going."
     In Cairo, visiting Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji pressed Israel to withdraw immediately from Palestinian towns and called for a complete cease-fire.
     Tanks and armored personnel carriers were seen heading out of Nablus and some Ramallah neighborhoods yesterday, but Mr. Gissin said troops would stay near Mr. Arafat's Ramallah headquarters. "Any place that we've finished we pull out," he said.
     Israel has said it will maintain its siege at the shell-shattered compound where the Palestinian leader is confined until he turns over suspects in the October killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Israel yesterday rejected Mr. Arafat's offer to try them in a Palestinian court.
      Israeli forces were expected to stay in the heart of Bethlehem until the end of a standoff between soldiers and armed Palestinians holed up inside the Church of the Nativity since April 2. A Franciscan priest inside said yesterday that food supplies had run out.
     In the Jenin refugee camp, fierce fighting ended more than a week ago, but 11 persons have been wounded over two days by stepping on unexploded ordnance or opening booby-trapped doors intended for Israeli troops, hospital officials said.
     U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns, calling for humanitarian aid, described the camp yesterday as the scene of a "terrible human tragedy" and "enormous suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians."
     The scale of death and destruction remains in bitter dispute. Israel says about 70 Palestinians were killed, most militants. Palestinian officials estimate the death toll in the hundreds. Twenty-three Israeli troops were killed. So far, 43 Palestinian bodies have been found, six of them women, children or elderly men, Palestinian sources said.