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Out of Gaza - and into Jerusalem

Posted By: wtnf
Date: 18, August 05, at 8:00 a.m.

By Lindsey Hilsum

The feint is an old military trick - the general sends a section of his forces to distract the enemy, so the battalions heading for the real target meet little resistance. Watch out for the feint in the Middle East in the coming week. Television news all over the world will show dramatic scenes of Israeli settlers in orange T-shirts being forced to leave the Gaza Strip, in what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calls a "painful sacrifice" for peace. Thirty-two thousand soldiers and police are being sent to remove 8,200 settlers, by force if necessary. Viewers will see Jewish settler women dragged kicking and screaming from land Israel has occupied since 1967.

But Sharon is an old general, a master of manoeuvres. While we are reporting the demise of the Gaza settlements, he is presiding over the creation and expansion of settlements in more strategically important areas, where few are watching. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, 3,981 new "housing units" are under construction in the occupied West Bank. At the same time, the Israeli government is building apartments and infrastructure on the outskirts of Jerusalem, to consolidate its hold over the city both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital.

The maps with this article tell the story. They show how a wall being built around a hugely expanded Jerusalem will thrust into the West Bank, almost dividing in two the main territory of any future Palestinian state. Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem are being surrounded by Jewish settlements, cutting them off from the West Bank and making it impossible for East Jerusalem to become a Palestinian capital. And while new Jewish settlements are under construction, some Palestinian houses in the heart of historic Arab East Jerusalem are threatened with demolition.

Prime Minister Sharon made a neat bargain with President George W Bush: Israel would withdraw from Gaza and, in return, the United States would formally accept that parts of the occupied West Bank which had been settled by Jews would eventually become part of Israel, should a Palestinian state ever come into being. A few "outposts" in the West Bank will be removed at the same time as Gaza, and others will eventually be dismantled, but the plan is to keep major population centres. Bush has said that expanding settlements in the Jerusalem area is not part of the deal, but the Israeli government is going ahead anyway, confident that in the end it will have its way.

After Israel was created in 1948, an armistice line, known as the Green Line, divided Israeli West Jerusalem from Arab East Jerusalem. In the 1967 war, Israel seized East Jerusalem and the adjacent West Bank from Jordan, which had previously had jurisdiction. While Israel occupied the West Bank, recognising that one day it might have to return the territory to the Arabs, it annexed East Jerusalem, arguing that not only had it won the city in battle, but also God had named Jerusalem as the sole and indivisible capital of the Jewish state.

A new report, The Jerusalem Powder Keg, by an independent think-tank on conflict, the International Crisis Group ( www., charts how the Israeli government has gradually expanded the area defined as "Jerusalem". Now that the world is concentrating on events in Gaza, the city limits are being pushed back even further. The map on the following page shows how municipal boundaries drawn in 1993 encompassed newly built Jewish settlements, which many Israelis regard not as encroachments on occupied land, but as mere neighbourhoods in their capital, Jerusalem. The Israeli government is now going a step further, creating a "Jerusalem envelope", which will requisition another 60 square kilometres of the West Bank. This will include the rapidly expanding settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, and - it hopes - the corridor to the north-west known as E1, which links Ma'ale Adumim to the city centre.

Palestinian East Jerusalem is being surrounded by Jewish neighbourhoods. A contour map would show that most of them are on hilltops, looking down on the Arab areas below. The settlements cut off Arab East Jerusalem from the West Bank. Most significantly, the red line on the map represents a wall, the physical barrier of concrete blast blocks and razor wire that Israel is building to separate itself from the West Bank. Ostensibly, it is to stop terror attacks, but it will also create what the Israelis call "facts on the ground", a de facto new municipal boundary extending 45 kilometres into the West Bank.

According to Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group, "Current activity around Jerusalem to link up Jewish West Bank settlements to East Jerusalem will not only undermine chances for a viable two-state solution, but create an explosive mix that will imperil the very security Israel says it is trying to guarantee."

Roughly 200,000 Palestinians will remain within the Jerusalem boundary. A further 55,000 will be excluded. There are already stories of families that find they live on one side of the wall, while their place of work or children's school is on the other. Whereas driving between the West Bank town of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, to the south, would take 20 minutes if you could go through Jerusalem, it will take at least an hour and a half on roads beyond the new wall. (That's not including the time spent at Israeli military checkpoints.)

The Israeli government says it wants to support the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, whom it regards as more "moderate" than Yasser Arafat. However, Jerusalem is central for the Palestinians, too, and Abbas is looking increasingly weak in Palestinian eyes as the Israelis consolidate their hold over the city. The alternative leadership is the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

None of this is accidental. By unilaterally surrendering Gaza, Israel has seized the initiative, and bought itself international goodwill and time.

"We were stuck, so we decided to change the strategic equation," explained an Israeli general. Whatever the talk about the "road map to peace", after withdrawing from Gaza, there will be little pressure on Israel to negotiate on Jerusalem or anything else. The onus will be on the Palestinians to prove to the world that they can run Gaza. The Israelis will sit back and wait for them to mess it up. If the Palestinian Authority fails to stop Hamas from lobbing missiles into Israel, or if the factions fight among themselves in Gaza, creating a "failed state" before there is any Palestinian state at all, it will be more reason for Israel not to negotiate.

"The significance is the freezing of the political process," said Sharon's senior adviser Dov Weisglass, in an interview last year so frank that his boss tried to distance himself from the remarks. "When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. In effect, this whole package that is called a Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."

As the Gaza disengagement proceeds, the louder and more violent the protests by the settlers and their supporters, the better it is for Sharon. Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun explained it to Israel's Haaretz newspaper: "Sharon needs national trauma to impress upon the Israeli public and the international community that it is impossible to do this again."

The Palestinians, and left-wing Israelis, hope that the settler movement will be undermined: that it will be "Gaza first", not "Gaza last". But Sharon has made it as clear as he can, without embarrassing his American friends, that the purpose of the disengagement is to secure the future of most of the 235,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the 180,000 living in and around Arab East Jerusalem.

Watch the television pictures, and see Israel withdrawing from Gaza. Listen to the Israeli commentators, talking of historic events and the pain of abandoning the settlements. Then look at these maps, and it will all make sense.

Lindsey Hilsum is international editor for Channel 4 News

Original Article

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