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Profile: Jewish Settlement Outposts Dismantled

Morning Edition: October 28, 2003

Israeli Settlements



BOB EDWARDS, host:

Israel's defense minister says several new Jewish settlement outposts on the West Bank will receive government services including electricity and telephones. The US-backed Middle East peace plan calls for Israel to stop settlement expansion in the occupied territories and to dismantle all settlements erected since Ariel Sharon became prime minister in March of 2001. The US Embassy in Tel Aviv is seeking clarification from Israel in its latest plans. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Jerusalem.

Describe these settlements and the services they're about to receive.

JULIE McCARTHY reporting:

Well, Bob, there are eight outposts that will be accorded these government services. One defense official told me this morning that those services are going to include such things as generators for electricity and lighting, armored transportation for schoolchildren and fencing, which she described as simple and removable; services, she said, that were aimed at providing security. Now these outposts are usually small clusters of trailer homes with four or five families. The Israeli watchdog group, Peace Now, has possibly the most authoritative reporting on Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. US envoys, Israeli government officials and settlers themselves use their reports. They say that the largest of these eight include about 100 people, and Peace Now estimates that overall, there are about 100 outposts with some 1,000 people in them. And while these numbers are small, they're symbolically significant. How the Sharon government treats them is seen as a kind of bellwether in how Israel's prepared to deal with the larger question of the established settlements.

EDWARDS: These settlements were to be disbanded under the US-backed road map?

McCARTHY: That's right. The road map calls for the removal of unauthorized outposts and a freeze on all settlement activity. And Israeli press reports say that some of these eight were actually slated for shutdown as well. In June, Israel did remove about dozen outposts. Most of them were empty; one that was inhabited put up a fight.

In the weeks that followed, Peace Now says that a similar number of outposts were set up after they had been taken down. So it shows the determination of the outpost settlers who say that no state, not even a Jewish state, should interfere with what they consider a divine mandate to settle land they consider their birthright. Now the anti-settlement activists say that this occasional evacuation is largely a charade, they call it. Critics say Irsael's steps to shut down the outposts are really aimed at giving the United States the impression that Israel is moving against settlement activity and complying with the road map. Just yesterday, a parliamentary committee approved about $20 million for construction of housing, much of it in the occupied West Bank settlements.

EDWARDS: So if Israel is ignoring the road map, how does the Bush administration react to that?

McCARTHY: Well, the US Embassy spokesman here in Israel said that officials have seen the reports regarding the outposts, they're asking for further information from Israel, that President Bush has made clear that the settlement activity must end, that's what the road map calls for, that Prime Minister Sharon has publicly stated his commitment to remove unauthorized outposts and that the US looks to the Israeli government to live up to its commitments that it made to President Bush, and that the United States has already said it is considering withholding loan guarantees as a means of pressure, but that's still not yet been determined.

EDWARDS: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Jerusalem.

The time is 21 minutes before the hour.

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