Settling Scores

POPULATION MAP OF THE WEST BANK AND GAZA

Before the deluge of the second Intifada, when Israelis and Palestinians were still trying to talk through their differences, they faced three large problems:

1) The future of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, which is tantamount to the future of the borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state;

2) The future of the Palestinian refugees, namely what the Palestinians regard as the right of the refugees to “return” and settle inside Israel;

3) The issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem, and in particular sovereignty over the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif).

Many Israelis believed that it was necessary to resolve each of these issues and that if they could be resolved together an agreement could be reached with the Palestinians. If they were to reach such an agreement, the Israelis would also have to accept a Palestinian state and arrive at security arrangements with the Palestinians.

However, the second Intifada has made many Israelis lose faith that there is a Palestinian partner with whom these issues can be negotiated. Even if all three issues are resolved, many doubt the conflict will come to an end. For they now believe that an end to the conflict is precisely what the Palestinians cannot accept: the Palestinian grievance is inconsolable.

Among the three issues, the Israelis find that of the refugees the most threatening. For the Palestinians the basic demand for the refugees’ right of return as well as the issue of the Haram al-Sharif remain unchanged. True, the refugees of 1948 who could still literally return are relatively few and relatively old, but this, in the eyes of the Palestinians, does not diminish their rights or those of their families. The same could be said about the Haram al-Sharif: the sanctuary stands as a rock in a sea of constant changes.

The issue of Jewish settlements is different. It is a dynamic problem that keeps changing as the number of settlers and settlements increases and as the locations of the settlements change. What the Palestinians find most worrying is the increase of over 50 percent in the number of housing units as well as in the settler population since the Oslo agreements of September 1993. In September 1993 there were 33,000 family housing units in the settlements. By July 2000, 19,000 units were added (3,000 of them under Barak). At the end of 1993 there were, according to Israeli statistics, some 116,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. In view of the yearly population growth of 8 percent (natural increase and newcomers combined), we can assume that there were about 200,000 settlers at the beginning of the second Intifada in late September 2000, including 6,500 of them in the Gaza Strip. There are altogether 145 official settlements and another fifty “unofficial” ones. The length of the roads that were built for the settlements, and that are used only by the settlers, increased by 160 …

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