What is Sharon Up To?

So what is a settlement bloc, and just where are they located? Who are the fortunate Israeli citizens who do not have to fear expulsion from their homes if Sharon’s policy is implemented?


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on August 30, 2005.)

Having expelled some 10,000 Israelis from their homes, just where does Ariel Sharon intend to go from here? This is a question he will be asked, whether he competes for the Likud leadership or whether he intends to run for the Knesset at the head of a new party.

If he is to be taken at his word, he will from now on concentrate on maintaining Israeli control over the “settlement blocs” in Judea and Samaria. That was a concept he presumably sold to U.S. President George Bush, who in the future is supposed to support their inclusion in Israel’s final borders.

So what is a settlement bloc, and just where are they located? Who are the fortunate Israeli citizens who do not have to fear expulsion from their homes if Sharon’s policy is implemented?

Looking at the map of Israeli settlements as they existed until two weeks ago, you might be surprised to find that the largest settlement bloc was the recently destroyed Gush Katif; a large, solid bloc of settlements that did not include a substantial number of Palestinians within its perimeter. That bloc, together with the isolated settlements of Netzarim and Kfar Darom, has now been forcibly evacuated. The small bloc of three settlements south of Ashkelon – Nissanit, Elei Sinai and Dugit – has also been destroyed.

What else could be defined as a settlement bloc? Gush Etzion plus the settlement of Efrat might well fit that definition, although a substantial number of Palestinians would have to be included within any reasonable perimeter drawn around this bloc and connecting it to Israel’s present border. That’s as far as settlement blocs go.

There exist a few fairly large settlements located adjacent to the Green Line: Modi’in Ilit, Betar Ilit and Alfei Menashe, and, of course, the single largest settlement, Ma’aleh Adumim, a few kilometers from the Green Line. It would take some stretching of the term settlement bloc to include them in that definition. The many other settlements in Judea and Samaria seem to have been located on the map almost at random, without any thought having been given to creating settlement blocs. They may have been part of Sharon’s dream some years ago, a dream from which he seems to have awakened only recently. More than anyone else, he is responsible for the map of Israeli settlements and the absence of significant settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria. Settlement blocs were evidently not part of his dream.

Sharon seems to have adopted a conception, which he shares with many Israelis, that any territory turned over to Palestinians, whether unilaterally or as part of an agreement, must first be cleared of any and all Jews living there. That was the logic, if there was any logic, for the recent forcible evacuation of the Jewish population in Gush Katif, the settlements south of Ashkelon, and in northern Samaria. A few months ago, Sharon announced that as of September not a single Jew would be living in the Gaza Strip. That prediction has now been fulfilled. Application of the same logic in Judea and Samaria would involve the forcible evacuation of all Jewish residents there, except those living within the perimeter of the “settlement blocs.”

It is high time that Israelis ask themselves whether forcibly evicting Jews from their homes in territories turned over to Palestinian control accords with the norms of a democratic society, or can really be viewed as an essential part of peacemaking in the Middle East. It is certainly a concept foreign to Western democratic societies and most unlikely to be adopted by any other democratic government in this day and age. Is it consistent with peaceful relations between Israel and the Palestinians? Would anyone in his right mind propose that a similar concept be applied to Israel’s Arab population, that they be forcibly evicted from their homes as part of a peaceful accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians? What kind of a peace would that be?

It was many years ago, after World War I, that the population transfer of Greeks from Turkey and Turks from Greece was considered a reasonable “rearrangement” of populations that would serve the interests of peace between the two countries. More recently, the establishment of Pakistan was accompanied by the mass transfer of millions between India and Pakistan, although it is not at all clear that this population transfer contributed to peaceful relations between the countries. We are not likely to see the adoption of these kinds of measures as part of a peace process in the future. There is no reason why Israel and the Palestinians should be the exception. Hopefully we will never again see the eviction of Israeli citizens from their homes for no reason other than that they are Jews.

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