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Settlements now an Israeli security factor
Sharon’s concept was to make ‘a pastrami sandwich’ of the Palestinians

George S. Hishmeh Special to The Daily Star


George S. Hishmeh is an Arab-American journalist living in Washington and a former editor in chief of The Daily Star (hishmehg@aol.com)


WASHINGTON: Winston S. Churchill III, grandson of the famed British prime minister, recalled last October at the National Press Club here a telling encounter he had had in 1973 with the hawkish Ariel Sharon, now the Israeli prime minister, about Zionist objectives. “What is to become of the Palestinians?” Churchill asked. “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them,” Sharon said. Churchill responded, “What?” “Yes, we’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”

Geoffrey Aronson, who is recognized in the US as the preeminent American expert on the Israeli settlement movement, loves to relate this significant exchange as he did in an interview with The Daily Star on two different occasions. His obvious aim was to underline how the illegal expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is central to Zionist machinations in the decades-long conflict with the Palestinians. Aronson is the editor of the Report on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories, a bimonthly publication of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a nonprofit organization founded in 1979 and “dedicated to promoting, through various activities, a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that brings peace and security to both peoples.”

The softspoken editor, who is Jewish by faith, received his first introduction to Israel ­ and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict ­ when he opted to go to Israel as part of his last year at a high school near Boston. “I had a normal reform Jewish upbringing,” he explained. “I was bar mitzvah-ed but I did not know much Hebrew. I could read but I did not understand any Hebrew and we did not follow much in terms of celebration and so forth, except to go on major (Jewish) holidays.” He lived on a kibbutz called Daphna, near Kiryat Shmona, in northern Israel. Aronson pursued his interest in the region when in 1977 ­ his senior year at Tufts University ­ he went to Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His roommate coincidentally was Dore Gold, a graduate student from Columbia University and now a senior adviser to Prime Minister Sharon. But it was Egypt, not Palestine, that consumed Aronson while studying at Oxford’s St. Anthony’s College.

His thesis was on US policy toward Egypt in the 1950s and the Suez Canal crisis. But when he completed his research in England, he chose to go to Jerusalem where he also took up writing for an Arab-owned London-based magazine called Eight Days. “A lot of my reporting dealt with the Occupied Territories,” he recalled about his two years living in Jerusalem, “and so I was reporting about settlements and things like that.” On his return to the US in 1982, Aronson wanted to write a book, “as a consequence of the time I spent there, called Creating Facts, which is the story of Israeli settlement policy in the Occupied Territories.” Once facts are created on the ground, Aronson explained in the interview with The Daily Star, “diplomacy will have no choice but to recognize and accommodate … That’s the story of Israel’s own history within the 1948 boundaries and it is the story of what’s going on today.”

Aronson said he was surprised that the problems of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land were not given more attention during the Oslo years. “Everyone pretended life was great … everyone seemed to believe you can have peace and settlements at the same time. I said ‘who am I to argue with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin?’” But he felt it was his duty “to create a historical record and, to the extent one could, to raise the consciousness among those people who are interested in the real problematic nature of Israel’s continuing policy of expansion … And now things are absolutely terrible.” His application paid off, for he is now recognized as the ultimate reference in the US about Israel’s settlement policies.

“The thing about settlements is that there aren’t any secrets,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s not a problem to see what’s happening because the only value of what’s happening is the transformation on the ground, and you don’t keep that a secret. So all you need to do is open your eyes and read the paper and listen to the news and get reports from Palestinians and Israelis who are affected.” Aronson thinks the current situation is dismal. “The basic framework that made Oslo possible is no longer seen as a valid line; perhaps by the Palestinians, but not by the Israelis. And without Israeli consent, we need to remember, Arafat would still be in Tunis.” Slowly but surely, he said, Israel is assuming the responsibilities that were undertaken by the Palestinians. This leaves the Palestinian Authority functioning merely as “an administrative agency, dependent on the goodwill of the Europeans and the Arabs, but without any real work.”

Turning to the issue of the Jewish settlers now numbering over 200,000 in the West Bank (excluding an equal number who moved into the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem), Aronson emphasized they have become a security factor for Israel. “Much of the (Israeli) deployment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip today is geared not so much to protect Israel proper from Palestinian attacks, but to assure the normal everyday life of settlers (there).” But he warned that this situation could evolve into a new “political dynamic” should there be an increase in the number of losses among Israeli [Image] reservists protecting settlers. “To have Israelis dying for settlements hasn’t happened ever in 35 years, which in itself is extraordinary,” he said.

As regards the fence Israel is building, Aronson believes it represents “a rethinking of that basic tenet that has guided basic Israeli policy over the decade.” Some Israelis, he said, “are beginning to say (Israeli) presence in this (Palestinian) area is a security burden and what we have to do is to refashion our security doctrine, which means build the fence and care less what happens on the other side of the fence.” Asked about the chances of an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories, Aronson says: “Israel needs to see that its security can be enhanced as a consequence of evacuation.” However, “that cannot be done only in the context of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. You need a broad regional agreement which would transform Israel’s view of its security interests, not only vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Jordanians but vis-a-vis ­ in today’s world ­ Iraq and Iran.

“Israel, for a long time, has viewed its security concerns as being primarily focused on Iraq and Iran, far less so on Jordan, even on Syria. So when one is looking for a reason or creating a framework for rethinking Israel’s position in the Occupied Territories, one has to think far beyond that in terms of territory. One has to go to the source of this, which is a security concept that the (Israeli Army) has, and has had, for a long time. “To address the issues on that basis, we need a real multilateral framework to re-fashion a security apparatus for the entire region. It is a grandiose idea. It’s an idea that absolutely has no political support here, certainly in an era when Iraq and Iran are part of the ‘axis of evil.’ But that’s the only way of getting, of what I consider it to be, to the root of the problem here.”

According to Aronson, Israel’s security concerns in the occupied Palestinian territories are “relatively new ­ only in the last decade or so …” But in the larger regional perspective, he explained, Israel will not withdraw from the Occupied Territories, especially today, after the failure of the Oslo process. It “will not cede its strategic control over them without a transformation of the regional security environment.”


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