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Bad news from the Israeli side?


Ehud Olmert's convergence plan may turn out to be as bad as both its Palestinian and Israeli detractors insist that it is. As I have noted elsewhere, nobody knows what Ehud Olmert's convergence plan really involves, where the "border" of Israel will be set, who will recognize this border, whether the IDF will withdraw or what will happen to settlements outside this border. The Zionist right attacked the program in advertisements, editorials and blogs as defeatist capitulation to terror (see Olmert in Washington - a Guide to the Perplexed and see a reply at Israpundit) but in truth, it is not possible to take a stand on this plan as long as we don't know the details. As the details emerge, the plan looks less and less appetizing for anyone seeking at least a livable solution for Palestinians and Israelis.

The leaked versions of the plan keep changing. Originally it was thought to encompass evacuation of all the settlements beyond the route of the security fence - about 60,000 settlers would be evacuated. Then it turned out that the route of the security fence might be moved, and more recently it was leaked that some settlements might remain outside the fence. In all, about 20-30,000 settlers would be moved according to a recent "estimate by Uzi Keren, the Prime Minister's adviser for settlements. Keren claimed that settlements such as Beth El and "even Shiloh" would not necessarily be evacuated. So what, if anything would be evacuated?

In Hebron, a tiny community of extremist settlers are planted in the heart of a large Arab city there. They harass Palestinians and the IDF. Settlers from nearby communities threaten attack Palestinian children on the way to school, so that an IDF escort is required to protect the kids from the settlers. In 1994, it will be remembered, Baruch Goldstein massacred a large number of Palestinians in the Cave of the Patriarchs. Hebron is a focus for Christian Peace Team efforts, and their reports of settler activities there do not bring any credit to Israel. The Hebron settlers are a security liability, a liability to Israel's image abroad, a real cause of suffering to Palestinian Arabs and a point of friction. Any sensible person would understand that this settlement cannot be part of Israel if Olmert's convergence plan is to garner international backing and Palestinian acquiescence. You might guess that Hebron would be evacuated.

Guess again. According to Kadima party MK Otniel Schneller, the Hebron settlement will not be evacuated. Rather, it will be expanded and the Arab inhabitants of Hebron will apparently be evacuated to make room for a large Jewish settlement that will link the Hebron settlement to Qiriat Arba. Here is what Ha'aretz and Associated Press reported:

Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who is helping to formulate Olmert's plan, said that the Jewish neighborhoods of Hebron will be connected to the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, and the two communities included in Israel.

"The Jewish neighborhood in Hebron will grow" and be linked to Kiryat Arba, Schneller told The Associated Press. "Hebron and Kiryat Arba are supposed to be part of the Israeli state."

About 500 Jewish settlers live in heavily guarded enclaves in Hebron in the midst of about 170,000 Palestinians. The settlers are among the most ultranationalist in the West Bank.

It is a bizarre report, and it is certain that had it made headlines yesterday, the Bush administration would not even have afforded Olmert's plan the lukewarm reception it got. It seems unlikely that anyone in the Israeli government really thinks that the United States, the EU, Russia or the UN would recognize Israeli annexation of a part of Hebron and eviction of a large number of Arabs from it.

Schneller, it will be remembered, was formerly a member of the Yesha council and is himself a settler. His defection to the new Kadima party amazed many. Now, perhaps, what he had in mind is much clearer. It remains to be seen if this bizarre thinking is really part of the convergence plan, or if Schneller is speaking for himself. However, the plan to link Kiriat Arba and Hebron has a bit of history and was supposedly accepted a while ago under Ariel Sharon.

Shneller may have unwittingly illustrated a fatal flaw in the convergence, realignment or consolidation plan for the West Bank, as it has been variously named. The plan was sold to the Israeli electorate as a way to achieve "permanent" borders for Israel without negotiating with the Palestinians, similar to the Gaza disengagement. The Gaza unilateral disengagement, however, was relatively simple, because, despite the claims of settler advocates, there are no places with deep historical or religious significance to Jews in Gaza. The West Bank is different of course. It includes the old city of Jerusalem, the tomb of Rachel and the tomb of the patriarchs in Hebron. Hebron also has a deep significance in modern Jewish national history. The Hebron Jewish community, which had flourished for hundreds of years, was evicted following bloody riots in 1929 and 1936. The area occupied by the settlers is Jewish land, bought in the time of the Ottoman Empire, from which Jews were dispossessed. The community is therefore a national symbol, and it is easy for right-wing actiivists to rally support for it. Given its location in the midst of an Arab city, however, the modern settlement in Hebron could only be maintained as part of a peace agreement that would guarantee the rights of all sides. It is hard to believe that international bodies or the US would support unilateral Israeli annexation of Hebron and wholesale eviction of Arabs, and just as hard to believe that they would agree to unilateral Israeli annexation of the Wailing Wall and the Temple mount in Jerusalem, or the cave of Rachel in Bethlehem. Without those areas, a unilateral peace plan could not be politically viable in Israel. Therefore, there is probably no way to achieve "permanent" borders by unilateral action, which would mean that the Israeli electorate bought a plan that is an impostor.

Ami Isseroff

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by Moderator @ 04:48 PM CST [Link]


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Replies: 4 comments

I spoke with Kadima MK Otniel Schneller after the AP report and he told me that this was his own opinion and that he remains clueless as to what PM Olmert actually has in mind. This is the same as he told me in an interview ealier this month http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=29210 .

With regard to Hebron, there is the interesting development that when I spoke with the Mufti of Jerusalem this week he said, in sharp contrast to what he told me a decade ago, that if Israel cut a deal with the Palestinians that provided for Jewish prayer to continue in the Tomb of the Patriarchs that it would be acceptable http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=29362 Mustafa Natsheh, the Mayor of Hebron, told me the same thing http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=29361 .

Are these people just being "politically correct" or do they really mean it?

If they are serious the message is that the cost of retreat is that much greater as it means foregoing the possibility of negotiating a deal under which Jews can continue to pray at this important location to the Jewish People.

Any mention of Hebron would not be complete without noting that despite all the trouble, the arrangement for prayer services serve to demonstrate how, under Israeli rule - in sharp contrast to Arab or other rule - it is possible for both Jews and Moslems to pray in the same facility.

Posted by Dr. Aaron Lerner @ 05/25/2006 07:52 PM CST

Ariel Sharon said a while ago, during the heat of the expulsions from Gaza, "There will always be Jews in Hebron." Don't be fooled, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be there, but what about their great-great grandchildren (today's Jews living there)? Will it be like when Sharon said, "Netzarim (in Gaza) is like Tel Aviv? We know what happened there... I'm waiting to see Tel Aviv expelled.

Posted by The Watcher @ 05/26/2006 01:50 AM CST

Dear Aaron,
According to the text of the article, Otniel Schneller gave absolutely no indication that this is only his opinion, nor did anyone in Kadima refute what Schneller said. Until and unless there is a denial or contradiction, we can accept that this is the plan.

Hebron certainly creates a problem. It is somewhat jarring to write:
"Any mention of Hebron would not be complete without noting that despite all the trouble, the arrangement for prayer services serve to demonstrate how, under Israeli rule - in sharp contrast to Arab or other rule - it is possible for both Jews and Moslems to pray in the same facility."

Any mention of the Jewish presence in Hebron would not be complete without mentioning the Baruch Goldstein massacre in 1994, the fact that the Israeli government under Rabin(!) no less, imposed a curfew on Palestinians after the massacre, and the numerous disturbances of the peace by settlers, including the occupation of Palestinian property in contravention to Israeli court orders, attacks on Palestinian school children in the At-Tuwan area and attacks on the IDF escort given to those children. The Hebron settlement is a good example for the enemies of peace and the enemies of Israel.

Ami Isseroff

Posted by Moderator @ 05/28/2006 04:31 PM CST

More Analysis/Features & Fact Sheets on the “Convergence Plan”

The Occupation's "Convergence Plan: Legitimizing Palestinian Bantustans
Sold to the world as a "withdrawal", the plan forms a vicious mix of further colonization of Palestinian land and expulsion of its people. The racist visions in which demography ensures supremacy are achieved via the closure of people behind ghetto walls, and into a series of Bantustans where colonial control over Palestinian life is assured.

The latest Campaign factsheet deconstructs the aims, motivations and goals of the Occupation’s latest media stunt – the "Convergence Plan".

It highlights a series of arguments to counter the Zionist propaganda, and outlines the realities on the ground from the Apartheid Wall and Occupation, thus serving as an important resource for supporters of Palestine across the world.

The Occupation's "Convergence Plan Analysis: Legitimizing Palestinian Bantustans
[link: http://stopthewall.org/analysisandfeatures/1157.shtml]

Fact Sheet in PDF

The "Convergence Plan" Map - reframing the Palestinian ghettos

Posted by StopTheWall.org @ 06/01/2006 10:52 AM CST

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