Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Israeli Government Complicit in Funding and Constructing Settlement Outposts

Here are three articles, from Ha'aretz, the Guardian, and the Washington Post regarding Talia Sasson's report on settlement outposts that is supposed to be released sometime soon. I've been trying to locate a copy of the actual report, but I'm not sure that it's available in English yet. As soon as I find an English-language copy, I will post a link.

In the meantime, I think it is interesting to see how the different newspapers focus on this report and its findings. Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper leads with the following:
Some of the illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank were both planned and funded by the Housing Ministry, including a number of those built on private Palestinian land, the author of a report on the West Bank outposts told reporters Wednesday.
I've noticed that the headline on the Ha'aretz website now is something about certain ministries and agencies refusing to provide requested information to Sasson for her report. The Ha'aretz story delves into this issue in the third paragraph:
Sasson also told reporters at Wednesday's press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem that a number of government ministries had failed to hand over some of the information she requested.

"I was unable to access all the data I asked for from government ministries," Sasson said, adding that the list of outposts that appears in the report is not a complete one. "I do not have a full picture of all the outposts," she said.

In light of the severe accusations, Sasson recommended that the Housing Ministry be stripped of authority over construction of settlements in the West Bank, and that this power be transferred to the cabinet.
Again, a strong focus on the role of the Housing Ministry. The Guardian, however, leads with the idea that this could mean a criminal investigation aimed at Ariel Sharon.
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, could face a criminal investigation after an inquiry today found government funds had secretly been used to set up illegal West Bank settlements.
A report by the former state prosecutor Talia Sasson called for Israel's attorney general to consider initiating criminal proceedings after discovering various ministries and official institutions had cooperated in channelling money to help to establish unauthorised outposts over the past decade.

Ms Sasson said the discovery called for "drastic steps" to be taken in order to protect Israel's democracy. Although she did not say by name who should face investigation, commentators said Mr Sharon would have played a key role in setting up outposts.
Throughout the story, the focus continues to be Sharon, as current housing minister Yitzhak Herzog is given the unsavory role of defending Sharon.
"The prime minister is displaying unusual courage in the recent period, including on this issue [outposts]," Mr Herzog told Israeli army radio. "The prime minister was connected to this issue, as someone who led the settlement movement ... for many years.

"But to unload the whole story on the prime minister is not right," Mr Herzog said.
Now I can think of several reasons that Herzog, of the Labor party, would take this line of reasoning. First, the Labor party wants to maintain influence in the Sharon government, especially if there is a shake-up around the time that the budget needs to be passed. Or Herzog might want to deflect criticism, in general, so that he will have an ally in Sharon when the attacks on the Housing Ministry start to heat up. Related to this, Herzog will essentially have to defend himself with the same line, i.e. "that was something in the past that is no longer happening" (more plausible for Herzog than Sharon, since he is new to his position as housing minister). Finally (and I suppose this is the most pure of the motives), Herzog could be trying to make sure that the focus is not placed on one man when it is quite obvious that the settlement expansion and outpost expansion is an institutional problem, an issue in which few are without blame (though surely many will escape without it).

As for the Washington Post story, the focus is on the violation of Israeli law and "international mandate." The story reads:
The Israeli government is funding and building Jewish settlement outposts across the West Bank in violation of its own laws and international mandates, according to a government-sanctioned report scheduled to be released Wednesday....

In the report, Sasson concludes that "the violation of the law has become institutional and institutionalized" in some government agencies, according to the newspaper account. "There is blatant violation of the law by certain state authorities, public authorities, regional councils in [the West Bank] and the settlers."

Government agencies have long denied complicity in the construction of settlement outposts in the West Bank, usually blaming Jewish settler organizations that officials say are independent of the government. But Sasson's report describes direct involvement by the Israeli government -- including the ministries of Defense and of Construction and Housing -- in outpost construction that violates not only Israeli law but the "road map" peace plan backed by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
I'm sorry, but who really cares about the "road map"? I mean, is it really news that Israel is not adhering to the "road map"? And furthermore, the story seems to imply that the "road map" is somehow more important as an "international mandate" than international law or UNSC resolutions? There is no mention of international law in the article; the focus is on the outposts and not on the actual settlements themselves. Indeed, the article states that "settlement expansion" (as opposed to the entire settlement enterprise) is "one of the most contentious issues between Israelis and Palestinians."

Also interesting was noticing where in the story it is mentioned that some of the outposts were built on privately-owned Palestinian land. Ha'aretz leads with this fact, including it in the first and second paragraphs of the story. The Guardian brings the issue up in the 6th paragraph, but does not explicitly state the claim until the 7th paragraph. The Washington Post references it in the 9th paragraph of the story only.

Like I said, I'll post excerpts and a link to the full report as soon as I can find it.

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