Netanyahu wants postponement of settlement dismantling ruling


The Israeli government plans to request that an Israeli Supreme Court order to dismantle part of a West Bank settlement be postponed for 90 days.

The court has ordered that a neighborhood of the Beit El settlement, north of Jerusalem, be dismantled by May 1. The neighborhood, which contains five structures and is called Ulpana, is built on Palestinian land.

But according to Haaretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked his state’s attorney to request that the decision be delayed for 90 days. Netanyahu hopes to use that time to propose an alternative plan to the court’s decision.

Settlers Struggle to Hold Biblical Israel


A battered shipping container was Itai Harel’s first home on this steep, windswept hilltop.

Now he lives in a trailer with running water and electricity, and land has been leveled for more permanent housing in this illegal settlement outpost. He and his fellow young settlers are gearing up to fight for their new hilltop home.

Migron, the largest and most established of the 100 or so illegal Jewish outposts set up across the West Bank, is on the front lines of a looming showdown between the settler movement and the Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently pledged to dismantle such settlements in accordance with the U.S.-led “road map” peace plan.

On Dec. 28, Israel ordered the removal of four of the outposts. The settlers can now petition against the action through the courts.

But settler rabbis called upon supporters to physically prevent the settlements’ dismantlement, and called upon army officers not to order their soldiers to dismantle the settlements.

Harel expressed similar sentiments.

“We are staying here. It’s our home,” said Harel, 29, vowing to return if the government somehow manages to remove them.

“It is our right to be here; this is our national home,” he said, sweeping his hand toward the view of Arab villages and Jewish settlements on nearby hillsides.

However, the settlers’ position may have been undercut by the National Religious Party (NRP), the main settler political body.

The NRP’s chairman, Housing and Construction Minister Effi Eitam, said Dec. 29 that the NRP would support the removal of four unauthorized outposts if no way could be found to authorize them.

The NRP “is part of the government, part of the rule of law in the State of Israel. If, in the end, after every avenue has been pursued, these outposts cannot be authorized, then we will not be able to support anything that is not legal,” Eitam told Israel’s Army Radio.

Over the past two years, 42 families have moved to Migron. They are young, defiant and fiercely ideological. Casting themselves as part of a continuum of ancient and modern Jewish history, they view their unauthorized building of an outpost about 20 minutes drive north of Jerusalem as key to strengthening the Jewish claim to biblical Israel. They also see it as similar to efforts by early Zionists to create “facts on the ground” in what became Israel proper.

Critics and the U.S. government see the outposts, built hastily and without government approval, as yet another obstacle to peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Harel and his friends at Migron, which is named after a biblical-era settlement in the region, are hesitant to say exactly how they would resist soldiers should they attempt an evacuation.

Pinchas Wallerstein, who heads the local settlement region of the West Bank, called Binyamin, said he hopes the Israeli courts will help prevent an evacuation order.

If that fails, he said he foresees thousands of supporters coming to Migron to help thwart police and army forces.

“If we have 7,000 to 10,000 people here it will not be possible to evacuate us,” Wallerstein said, addressing a wedding party from Houston that had come to see Migron as part of a tour of West Bank Jewish settlements. “Why is it legitimate to evacuate Jewish settlements but we cannot withdraw [Arab villages?]” he asked, calling any evacuation a reward for terrorism.

Before climbing back on their bus, the visiting Americans posed for pictures with Wallerstein, who has temporarily moved the Binyamina headquarters to Migron to head the campaign against its possible removal.

In a show of solidarity, Israel’s well-organized settler movement has helped facilitate visits by thousands of people to Migron in recent weeks.

Jerry Silverman, one of the wedding party members, said he hoped the issue would be resolved through negotiations.

“The American government is not in charge of Israel,” he said.

Sharon, long a patron of the settler movement, is under intense pressure from the U.S. administration to fulfill Israel’s obligations under the road map, beginning with the dismantling of illegal outposts that have cropped up over the last several years. Many were established in the immediate aftermath of Arab terrorist attacks on local settlers.

In a speech earlier this month, Sharon said some settlements would have to be evacuated if Israel disengages physically from the Palestinians.

The first Israeli presence on the hill where Migron stands today were cell phone towers built by local phone companies four years ago. Young settlers followed about two years later.

The Israeli government said it expects to begin evacuating settlement outposts in the next few weeks. Officials hope settlers will leave without a fight.

“If the outposts are illegal, then they will be dealt with — hopefully with persuasion, but otherwise with force,” said Zalman Shoval, a foreign policy adviser to Sharon.

“Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” he added quickly.

The four outposts slated for quick removal reportedly are Ginot Aryeh, near Ofra; Hazon David, near Kiryat Arba; Bat Ayin Ma’arav, in Gush Etzion; and Havat Shaked, near Yitzhar.

Only one of the outposts — Ginot Aryeh — is inhabited, with about 10 families living there as well as a few single people.

Unlike most other outposts, Migron is more than a small collection of tents and trailers. There is a paved circular road and two buildings with stone facades, one that serves as a synagogue, the other a nursery school.

Still, amenities are basic.

Next to the community’s row of portable toilets is a large white plastic tent for meetings and celebrations. Trailers are clustered in muddy patches of land. A private security guard in a fleece jacket and armed with an Uzi machine gun mans the entrance. A fence topped with rings of barbed wire surrounds the outpost.

“It’s clear it is worth the price. We are here to live a quality life, to live an ideal,” Harel said.

Peace activists say that ideal is misguided and dangerous. It also does not represent the views of most Israelis, who according to polls, are willing to withdraw from most West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements in the event of an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians.

As long as settlement building continues, “we will be doomed to more and more international condemnation, economic recession and violence,” said Dror Etkes, who coordinates Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project. “Another settlement is another rock in the occupation and oppression [of the Palestinians].”

Etkes said he saw Sharon’s recent policy speech as a potential turning point since the Israeli government has yet to dismantle any settlements of significant size.

“If the settlements are uprooted then the first inroads will be made,” he said. “Migron could be the first uprooted and this will be a historic event.”

Shlomo and Hagit Ha’Cohen, both 25, see Migron’s place in history differently.

They say they are living Jewish history in their decision to live and establish a family in Migron. Hagit, who teaches history and civics at a Jerusalem high school, is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

“We see this as our home forever, even if there are problems along the way,” said her husband, a yeshiva student who plans to study civil engineering. “With all due respect to the Americans, at the end of the day we are the ones who decide.”

Sitting in their bookshelf-lined three-room trailer, for which they pay $70 a month rent, Shlomo cites the story of Chanukah and the conflict between the ancient Greeks and the Israelites.

“Many imperial powers have told us what to do throughout history. They no longer exist. Israel is still here,” he said. “Our path is clear, we know where we want to go.”

Egypt Displays Split Personality on Israel


Israeli leaders were heartened in late December, when Egypt’s
foreign minister announced that he would come to Jerusalem for talks on
promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

At the same time, however, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
was moving in Cairo to galvanize international pressure on Israel to dismantle
the nuclear weapons it is presumed to possess.Â

These seemingly contradictory thrusts in Egyptian policy
highlight the deep ambivalence that has characterized Egypt’s attitude to Israel
since the two countries made peace in 1979.Â

On the one hand, Egypt has been keen to encourage other Arab
countries and the Palestinians to follow its lead in making peace with Israel —
partly to prove that it was right in pioneering accommodation with the Jewish
State, partly to reinforce its position as a major power broker in the Middle
East and partly to satisfy Washington.Â

Some believe that Egypt still is undecided about whether it
really wants peace with Israel. Others believe Egypt simply sees Israel as a
major rival for regional hegemony. In either case, while seeking a wider,
regional rapprochement, Egypt also strives to weaken Israel and keep it
isolated.Â

Egypt therefore makes peace overtures but keeps Israel at
arm’s length. It fashions a model of “cold peace” — some might call it a war
everywhere but on the battlefield — and implies that other Arab countries
should adopt it. It carries out war games in which Israel is the named enemy,
presses every possible button to pressure Israel to dismantle its presumed
nuclear stockpile and often leads the diplomatic charge against Israel in
international forums.Â

For more than 20 years, this ambivalent policy has not
changed. Nor, from Egypt’s perspective, should it, since the policy has paid
rich dividends.Â

First and foremost, it paved the way for Egypt to build
close relations with the United States, including a huge annual aid package
that Egypt has used both to advance domestic goals and to undertake a massive
military reconstruction effort over the past two decades. It also has put Egypt
in a position to help other Arabs, such as the Palestinians or Syrians, forge
negotiations with Israel. Egypt has been trying to play the “honest broker”
over the past year, searching for ways to stop Israeli-Palestinian violence.Â

Since the Palestinian intifada was launched in September
2000, Egypt has worried about violent repercussions at home. Radical Islamic
groups in Egypt could harness anti-Israeli feeling to attack the Mubarak regime
for not doing more to help the Palestinians, conceivably sparking violence
directed at the regime, itself.Â

Last June, Egypt was able to get Palestinian terrorist
groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad to agree to a temporary truce with
Israel. But the truce quickly collapsed after a rash of targeted killings of
terrorist leaders and a new wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.Â

Now the Egyptians are trying again, holding meetings in
Cairo on a new cease-fire and sending Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar
Suleiman, for talks in the Palestinian territories, so far without concrete
results.

Syrian President Bashar Assad also is seeking Egyptian aid
in paving the way for a renewal of peace talks with Israel. After Saddam
Hussein’s fall in Iraq and Libyan leader Muammar al-Quaddafi’s agreement to open
his weapons programs to international inspection, Assad fears he could be next
in line for special treatment by a U.S. government that has shown little
tolerance for Arab sponsors of terrorism.Â

Assad announced through the pages of The New York Times that
he wants to start a new negotiating process with Israel, and in late December,
he flew to Egypt to ask for Mubarak’s aid.Â

Israel has been skeptical of Assad’s intentions — most
officials believe Assad merely is trying to duck U.S. pressure — but says it is
exploring Assad’s statement. Still, Israel is demanding strong Syrian action
against terrorist groups in Damascus and Lebanon before any talks can begin.Â

While playing the “honest broker,” however, Egypt also has
been leading diplomatic moves against Israel in various international forums.Â

Egypt was active in getting the security fence issue
referred to the International Court at The Hague and, following Libya’s
startling commitment on weapons of mass destruction, Egypt worked closely with
Syria to force a Security Council debate on ridding the Middle East of all
weapons of mass destruction — a debate that is bound to focus primarily on
Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal.Â

For years, the campaign against Israel’s nuclear capability
has been a cornerstone of Egyptian foreign policy. In 1995, Egypt threatened to
scuttle international reaffirmation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by
persuading Third World countries not to sign unless Israel did.

Five years later, Egypt repeated the same gambit. In both
cases, however, strong U.S. pressure forced the Egyptians to back down.Â

There is a huge disparity between Egypt’s self-image and the
reality on the ground: The truth is that Egypt no longer seems to have the
clout of a great regional player.Â

For example, when Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher
visited the Al Aksa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in late December,
Palestinian radicals bombarded him with shoes, a display of contempt. And on
that same trip, Egypt heeded Israel’s demand that Maher not meet with
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, whom Israel seeks to sideline.
Earlier, Palestinian terrorist groups disdainfully rejected Egyptian advice to
accept a cease-fire with Israel.Â

The duality of Egyptian policy leads to suspicion and
anxiety on the Israeli side. One of Egypt’s sharpest Israeli critics is Yuval
Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who
asked why Egypt needs such a huge, modern army when it has no apparent
enemies.Â

Steinitz noted that Egypt has used huge amounts of U.S.
money to transform its army into one of the strongest forces in the Middle
East, that it has many of the same weapon systems as Israel and that it even
has U.S. instructors to teach the Egyptians how to use the weapons. Of all the
Arab armies, Steinitz said, Egypt’s is the one Israel has to take most
seriously in the future.Â

Perhaps the case that best highlights the ambivalence of
Egyptian policy is the abortive Camp David summit with the Palestinians in July
2000. Fearing that their regional influence would be diluted, the Egyptians
blocked the resumption of multilateral peace talks with Israel on regional
cooperation in the runup to Camp David.Â

Then, as the Camp David summit was about to collapse,
Mubarak turned down a request from President Bill Clinton to do him a personal
favor and pressure Arafat to sign an agreement with Israel that would postpone
disputes over sovereignty of Jerusalem’s holy sites.Â

At the time, U.S. and Israeli officials found Egypt’s
spoiler role unbearable. Yet when fighting erupted two months after the collapse
of Camp David, Egypt played a major role in containing the violence and
preventing a full-scale regional war.Â

Though he pulled Egypt’s ambassador from Israel — a
violation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel — Mubarak declared early on that
Egypt “wouldn’t fight to the last Egyptian” for the Palestinian cause. More
than anything else, analysts believe, Mubarak’s levelheaded attitude prevented
the spread of violence across the entire region.

Though Egypt continues to fire diplomatic broadsides at
Israel and refuses to return its ambassador, trumpets its friendship with the
United States while ignoring U.S. calls to democratize and plays the regional
superpower without regional respect, the bottom line is that most feel that
Egypt’s pragmatism remains a powerful, pro-Western force for regional
stability.

However, that stability rests, in large degree, on the
person of Mubarak, a 75-year-old whose health has raised concern recently.
Mubarak had to interrupt a televised speech last month when he suddenly fell
ill.

After 22 years in power, Mubarak has not chosen a successor,
and analysts worry that if Mubarak dies suddenly — he came to power after Anwar
Sadat was assassinated — Egypt will fall into disarray. That could give
Islamists, Mubarak’s most powerful domestic opponents, an opportunity to seize
power and upset the regional stability Mubarak has been so keen to maintain. Â