Arab News (Editorial)
December 14, 2009 - 1:00am§ion=0&article=129543&d=14&m=12&y=2009

Israeli Jewish settlers need not worry about being evicted or that the homes built for them will be brought down. They should have no concerns that Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition will stop settlement construction. There has never been a climate in Israel more conducive to building them. And the reasons are economical as much as they are ideological.

The expansion of settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem in particular has become for the Israeli government the solution to the problems of the low-income bracket in Israeli society. The price of a square meter of property in Tel Aviv and its suburbs costs $1,000, while a square meter in a settlement in the West Bank is for a mere $10. At the same time, the state also offers easy housing loans for anyone who chooses to live in the settlements, and builds superior infrastructures for them.

The reasons behind the migration to settlements are that settlements are prospering at a time when most Israelis are suffering from a drop in luxury living. Settlements provide people with facilities that are inaccessible to them if they lived within the borders of Israel, including cheap land, spacious villas, financial assistance, breathtaking scenery, infrastructure, major streets and academic institutions. Hence, living in a settlement is viewed as a social and economic privilege. It is far better than the possibility of peace and settlement.

Thus settlers, who have become alarmed at any prospect of peace because this will affect their standard of living, find themselves obligated to support the right wing that advocates keeping Palestinian land in Israel’s grip.

This trend is one of the elements that have caused Israeli public opinion to drift toward political extremism, by endorsing right-wing parties and the extreme right. In a recent public opinion poll, it was revealed that if elections were held today the right and extreme right would win more than 75 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. This would guarantee that the right would rule Israel single-handedly. Political parties on the right call for Israeli control of the West Bank to ensure that the immense economic benefits the settler currently enjoys are not taken away. Their calls will be heard.

Despite Netanyahu’s decision to temporarily freeze construction in settlements for 10 months work will continue on some 3,000 apartments and houses already approved, and proceed unimpeded in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians seek to have their future capital. And when the 10 months are up, settlement work will resume.

Paradoxically, sights and sounds of worried and combative settlers could help the Palestinian leadership if this makes Palestinians feel they have wrung a significant concession from Israel. But the Palestinians will not be duped. For them, the real issue is the half million Jewish settlers already living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, their expanding towns and villages eating away at the Palestinian dream of an independent state.


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