Analysis: Israeli Government Attapmts To Legalize A Number Of West Bank Settlement Outposts

All Things Considered: October 30, 2003

Israeli Plan to Extend Services to Outposts Criticized



ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

This week, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon confirmed plans to extend municipal services and security protection to a number of settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The move calls into question Israel's commitment to the US-backed road map to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. NPR's Julie McCarthy visited one of the outposts and has this report.

JULIE McCARTHY reporting:

The Magron settlement outpost, like many in the occupied West Bank, avails itself of a strategic position high on a hill. The view from this craggy, windswept perch is breathtaking, if barren. The storm clouds raging around it are a fitting backdrop for the furor such settlements stir. Many Jewish settlers consider the occupied West Bank to be part of their biblical birthright and no state, not even a Jewish one, will remove them. The Palestinians expect to establish an independent state on this same soil one day and, thus, the most vexing dispute in the search for peace endures. In the wind, the resident manager of Magron nearly gets blown off a trailer rooftop trying to secure a water tank with a fellow resident.

Unidentified Man: Just trying to hold this thing real hard so the wind won't pick it up.

McCARTHY: While some outposts are little more than a lone Israeli flag and a few scruffy tents, the ground is already ringed with utility poles. Fencing surrounds the trailer homes that house more than 40 families. An antenna for cellular phones pokes skyward. Electricity and water are abundant. Magron is tiny compared to larger settlements which are effectively big towns of permanent buildings guarded by Israeli soldiers at vast expense. But Magron is now slated for additional services from the Defense Ministry. Defense officials confirmed that the ministry will give eight such outposts beefed-up security, such as transportation for schoolchildren and generators for lighting. Defense officials say this does nothing to change the legal status of the outposts, but residents of Magron expect that the new security measures mean it soon will be an officially authorized settlement.

The additional services contravene the road map for peace Israel pledged to honor. Under it Israel agreed to cease all settlement activity and to dismantle outposts erected since Ariel Sharon became prime minister in March 2001. Settlers say Magron was erected before that. The watchdog group Peace Now says most construction has taken place in the past 18 months. Dror Etkes monitors settlements for Peace Now, whose reports on the subject are viewed as authoritative.

Mr. DROR ETKES (Peace Now): This is definitely one of the about 60 settlement outposts which had been erected after March 2001, and this is definitely one of the places which should have disappeared already.

McCARTHY: Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled says that by extending security to the outposts the government is doing nothing more than acknowledging that its citizens currently inhabit dangerous areas and that during this time of heightened tension, they must be accorded protection.

The Bush administration has raised objections to the Israeli moves, but only in the form of a mild public rebuke. Few expect Israel to face serious pressure to discharges its obligation under a faltering peace plan. Ariel Sharon's reported admonition to his Cabinet this summer seems the operative policy. Israeli media paraphrased the prime minister then as saying, `Build, but don't gloat.' Julie McCarthy, NPR News.

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