Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 1994, Pages 10, 84

Speaking Out

Israeli Labor Party's “Cleverly Concealed” West Bank Settlements

By Paul Findley

Whether the Labor or Likud Party controls Israeli policy, the prospects for Palestinian freedom and dignity are grim. The party differences are mainly in style and tactics. Likud leaders prefer open defiance of world opinion, while under Labor—by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's own admission—repression is carried out quietly and deceptively.

In the fall of 1990, preparing for the political campaign that would restore him two years later to the position of prime minister, Rabin acknowledged a massive deception that had already put major obstacles on the road to peace. In effect, he also foretold the policies he would follow when victorious at the polls.

At the time, on the assumption that the spread of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories was broadly popular among Israelis and certain to win votes on election day, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's Likud Party was boasting about its leadership in expanding the settlements. Indeed, Shamir, never known for subtlety, had been brazen about settlement-building. On several occasions he had attended ground-breaking ceremonies for new ones that were scheduled to coincide precisely with the arrival in Israel of a strong critic of settlements, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.

Not to be outdone in the campaign arena, Rabin discarded his customary policy of concealment. He informed the electorate that the Labor Party had led the way in building settlements years before the Shamir administration, but added that it had carried out the construction "cleverly" so as to avoid criticism in the United States.

The Oct. 18, 1990 issue of Davar quoted Rabin's response to Likud: "For all its faults, Labor has done more and remains capable of doing more in the future [in expanding Jewish settlements] than Likud with all of its doing. We have never talked about Jerusalem. We have just made a 'fait accompli.' It was we who built the suburbs in [the annexed part of] Jerusalem. The Americans didn't say a word, because we built these suburbs cleverly." The suburbs he cited are Jewish settlements built on land in the East Jerusalem area seized from Palestinians.

In this amazing but little-noted bit of candor, Rabin could accurately have broadened Labor's claim beyond the East Jerusalem area. All of the early and many of the later settlements in the West Bank and Gaza were built when the Labor Party was in power.

Rabin's astonishing admission came to my attention through a booklet, Clever Concealment: Jewish Settlement in the Occupied Territories Under the Rabin Government, August 1992-September 1993. It is published by the Palestine Human Rights Information Center in Jerusalem and is the clearest and most dramatic presentation of the challenge posed by settlements that I have seen. Rabin's admission is a convincing rejoinder to those who claim that the settlements are the unfortunate legacy of the Likud Party alone and would never have come into being had Labor stayed in power. The main difference on settlement policy, as became evident when Rabin took office, is that Labor is more deceptive.

The main difference on settlement policy is that Labor is more deceptive.

On assuming the post of prime minister, Rabin pledged publicly a "settlement freeze" but privately proceeded with expansion. He began to carry out the Sheves Plan, named after Shimon Sheves, the director-general of the prime minister's office, which cleverly obscures in "development" terminology plans for the construction of settlements, both government and private, and highways to serve them. According to Clever Concealment: "There has not been an abrupt break, or settlement 'freeze' as publicly claimed [by Rabin]. Instead, there has been a shift from Ariel Sharon's stark vision of the transfer of Palestinians and outright Israeli annexation of the territories to a more sophisticated concept of quantitative control, selective annexation, separation (through closure), and containment of Palestinian population centers within contiguous Jewish settlements."

In a highly deceptive statement in 1992, Israel announced it was terminating government financial benefits to settlers. The announcement worked wonders in America; it gave President George Bush the excuse to provide Israel in the last months of his administration with $10 billion in U.S. government loan guarantees which have since facilitated the expansion of settlements.

A Fraudulent Announcement

In reality, the announcement was a fraud. Financial benefits to Jewish settlers did not end. The Rabin government continued assistance to Jews in 76 separate settlements—nearly half the total—in amounts ranging as high as $18,000 per settler. Far from being "frozen," subsidies were increased. Settlers were given generous grants and loans. For example, living space that cost $145,000 in West Jerusalem could be purchased by settlers in the occupied territories for $60,000. East Jerusalem and surrounding areas were specifically excluded from the so-called "freeze" on settlements. Settlers there are exempt from municipal taxes for five years and then pay a reduced rate. Because of this bias, per capita taxation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is five times that of Jews living there.

Since then, Israel has proceeded with the construction of highways in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied territories. In each instance, this has meant the confiscation of Palestinian land and the demolition of Palestinian property, including many homes.

The new highways serve Israeli interests in two ways: First, they form links vital to the well-being of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, enabling settlers to move swiftly to and from Jerusalem and among the settlements; second, they form barriers that make movement difficult for Palestinians, whose communities are already substantially isolated from each other.

Moreover, the Israeli government permits only Jewish-owned enterprises to be established along these new highways. As they become lined with businesses that are exclusively Jewish, the highways will become barriers to Palestinian movement that are even more formidable.

Under Shamir, Israel pressed toward the objective of settling 2.6 million Jews in the occupied territories by the year 2000 at an aggregate cost of $200 billion. Housing Minister Ariel Sharon said publicly he would continue toward that goal even if U.S. loan guarantees were not forthcoming. Public resistance to outlays of that magnitude helped to create the vote that defeated Shamir and placed Rabin in office in June 1992, but the change in government did not make a basic change in Israeli plans to use settlements as instruments to control the territories.

Labor and Likud must share the blame for populating the West Bank with over 100,000 Jewish settlers, East Jerusalem with more than 150,000 and the Gaza Strip with 3,500. In the aggregate the settlements now total 160. On July 20, 1979 the U.N. Security Council demanded that Israel stop building settlements. Israel has ignored the demand.

Each settlement stands as an explicit violation of international law and policy decisions of the United Nations. The Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, states: "The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

Working "cleverly" and without complaint from his chief financier, the U.S. government, Rabin is making swift progress in subdividing the Palestinian population into isolated units that will be easier for Israeli forces to control through the imposition or extension of closure. It is ironic that Israel, with massive American help, is building an ugly new apartheid while South Africa, responding to substantial U.S. pressure, is dismantling the old.

Former Congressman Paul Findley is chairman of the Council for the National Interest, a membership organization in Washington, DC.