First Published: 2009-09-08

Jewish extremists to battle construction freeze

Radical Jewish settlers certain that hardline Netanyahu will not permit half of illegal settlements.


Middle East Online

Jewish settlers are known for their violence, radical ideologies

NOKDIM, West Bank - Illegal Jewish Israeli settlers vow they will fight any partial freeze in construction of homes in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, a move they see as a cave-in by their government to American pressure.

The settlers adhere to radical ideologies and are extremely violent to almost-defenseless Palestinians.

All Jewish settlements are illegal under international law because they are built on Arab land (mainly Palestinian), illegally occupied by Israel.

Around illegal 200,000 Jewish settlers are estimated to have moved into the dozen or so Israeli settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

There are about 300,000 more illegal Jewish settlers currently living in settlements the Palestinian West Bank.

"We will do whatever we can, democratically, to prevent a freeze that is nothing more than capitulation before (US President Barack) Obama," said Pinhas Wallerstein, a leader of the Yesha Council, the main settlers' lobby.

For now, the illegal settlers are holding protests, such as on Monday when several hundred gathered at a West Bank site near occupied Jerusalem, symbolically laying the concrete foundations of a new neighbourhood in the Maale Adumim settlement.

A few dozen kilometres (miles) away, a cloud of dust hung in the sky as heavy machinery tore up the earth to lay the foundations of several new homes in the settlement of Nokdim, near Bethlehem.

Israel's decision on Monday to authorise the building of 455 new illegal homes in the Palestinian territory ahead of any such moratorium was brushed aside by most radical settler leaders as not enough.

"It is an insult to our intelligence, we are very disappointed by this announcement," Wallerstein said.

The government announced last week that it would authorise a burst of new illegal settlement homes before agreeing to any halt in construction.

Washington has been pressing its key ally for months to stop all settlement activity in a bid to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that have been suspended since late December, when Israel bombarded besieged Gaza.

But hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-leaning cabinet opposes such a move, has baulked at such a freeze.

The Israelis are currently negotiating with the Americans over a partial lull that would exclude Palestinian East Jerusalem and some 2,500 illegal housing units already under construction.

But for radical settler leaders, a partial freeze is unacceptable because it falls short of meeting the needs of the growing population of the illegal - often armed and dangerous - settlers in the West Bank.

"We have more demand than offers," said Tamar Castelnuovo, a real estate agent in the Tekoa settlement near Nokdim.

"Why should we stop construction?" she asked. "Americans have no right to tell Jews not to live in Judea, the cradle of the Jewish people," but the word 'live' really means control, or even stop the Palestinians - the original inhabitants of the land - from living there.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal by the international community, and the issue is one of the major obstacles to a Middle East peace deal.

Danny Dayan, the head of Yesha, is still not happy with the end of illegal setlement acticity in Gaza.

"We did this experiment in Gaza," he said in reference to the 2005 withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Palestinian territory, after Hamas gave the Israeli occupation too much of a headache via its resistance.

"The south of Israel became the target of rocket attacks," from the Gaza Strip," Dayan said, failing to mention that the Palestinian resistance is a response to Israeli occupation.

"To think it would be any different in Judea and Samaria is irrational," he added, using the biblical term for the Palestinian West Bank.

Many Jewish extremist think they have a 'God-given' right to take the Palestinian land.

Dov Levy-Neumand, 76, who has lived in Tekoa for a quarter of a century, remains unfazed.

"I don't believe the freeze announced by Netanyahu will happen," he said.

"It's rhetoric. Israelis will never accept a withdrawal from the West Bank after the failure of the (Gaza) disengagement."

Observers say as long as Israel's occupation continues - settlements or no settlements - Palestinians will always insist on their right to liberation, as guaranteed by international law.

Violent Jewish settlements are just one part of the brutal Israeli occupation, but it is not the only issue on the table.


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