Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Report Shows Israeli Support for Illegal West Bank Settlements

“A long-awaited report into Israeli government support for illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, formally delivered to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today, describes widespread state complicity, fraud and cynicism, illegal diversion of government money and illegal seizure of private Palestinian land.

The report, which was written under American pressure, finished in early January and withheld until now, accuses the government of Mr. Sharon and previous Israeli governments of "blatant violations of the law" and complicity in helping settlers construct illegal outposts in violation of stated Israeli government policy. The report describes almost a state within a state, devoted to promoting illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

"No one seriously intends to enforce the law," says the report, written by Talia Sasson, a former chief state prosecutor. "It seems as if the violation of the law has become institutional and institutionalized. There is blatant violation of the law by certain state authorities, public authorities, regional councils" in the West Bank "and the settlers," Ms. Sasson writes, according to excerpts published today by the Israeli daily Maariv. "Everything is done for appearances' sake, as if a regulated institutional establishment were acting within the confines of the law."

The conclusions of the report, which will be released in full on Wednesday, are no surprise, and confirm accusations made for years by Peace Now, the dovish Israeli citizen's lobby, and less publicly by the United States Embassy here. Mr. Sharon commissioned the report in June 2004 after accusations that his government was not keeping its promises to Washington to freeze settlement activity and dismantle illegal settler outposts in the West Bank set up after March 2001.”

At the time, the report was considered a delaying tactic, but its conclusions, however harsh, will also give Mr. Sharon a solid pretext within Israel for dismantling at least some of the illegal outposts. Mr. Sharon has argued to the Bush administration that his plan to dismantle all Jewish settlements in Gaza is so painful that he cannot get into a fight with settlers on the West Bank at the same time. He has also insisted that the Palestinians complete their obligations to dismantle terrorist organizations under the first stage of the peace plan called the road map before Israel could even begin to complete its parallel obligations to freeze settlement activity and dismantle the illegal outposts, of which there are around 100, with at least 2,000 inhabitants.

At least 50 outposts date since March 2001, when Mr. Sharon came to power, and should be dismantled under the road map, according to Peace Now. The government has said there are only 28 such outposts; the Sasson report gave a figure of 96 illegal outposts in total. The international community considers all Israeli settlements built beyond the 1949 armistice lines as illegal.

Aides to Mr. Sharon said he would not comment on the report until he had read it. Raanan Gissin, a Sharon aide, said: "It will be studied carefully with the intention of implementing it, and it will be translated and given to the U.S. Embassy." The report was done "in coordination with the U.S. government to see how we could get to the bottom of this issue," Mr. Gissin said. "Corrections and adjustments have to be made."

Asked if there would be indictments, Mr. Gissin said: "If laws were broken, subject to the decision of the attorney general, indictments may be made. Israel is a country of the rule of law and laws will be upheld."

According to Ms. Sasson's report, the laws have not been upheld for some time, including during the entire period of Mr. Sharon's government.

The Housing and Construction Ministry, the settlement division of the semi-governmental World Zionist Organization, the Education Ministry and the Civil Administration, which is how the Defense Ministry governs the West Bank, worked together to "systematically establish illegal settlement points," handing over millions of dollars to create the infrastructure for scores of settlements, according to the report.

Permission to construct communications antennas on Palestinian lands were followed by connections to the electrical grid, then a booth for a guard, followed by the paving of a road, then infrastructure for housing trailers that were financed from the state budget - $8 million in 2003 alone. The trailers were often manufactured and put in place before official tenders for them had even been placed, creating a settlement quickly.

Ms. Sasson wrote of the trailers: "They are transported, positioned on the ground and hooked up to the infrastructure. It's a house on wheels. This allows for a settlement to be established overnight, by simply moving the trailers."

Construction permits and permits to move trailers in the West Bank were approved by the Defense Ministry, according to the report, while officials ignored where trailers ended up and overlooked missing paperwork, permissions and required monetary deposits to ensure that "the trailer will be positioned legally."

Ms. Sasson is scheduled to hold a news conference to discuss the report on Wednesday.

con·cept: Report Shows Israeli Support for Illegal West Bank Settlements