Construction fever

Khalid Amayreh

Israeli triumphalism at the ending of a temporary ban on settlement construction contrasts with the muted, and confused, Palestinian and Arab response, writes Khalid Amayreh from the occupied territories.

With the Arab world and Palestinian Authority seemingly caught in a spiral of weakness and vacillation, and the Obama administration unwilling or unable to pressure Israel, the Israeli government has allowed anti-peace Jewish settlers to embark on all-out drive to build as many settler units as possible.

The audacious move came hours after a 10-month moratorium on settlement expansion expired Sunday night, 26 September.

Gleeful celebrations continued for hours as settler leaders and government officials delivered speeches with bulldozers, concrete mixers and other construction equipment in the background. During the celebrations, thousands of balloons were released into the air, signifying the number of units settlers intend to build.

With nearly all restrictions on settlement expansion now removed, the settlers, with the explicit backing of the government, are vowing to "compensate" for the 10-month hiatus by intensifying settlement construction to an unprecedented degree.

Settler leaders say they intended to build "tens of thousands of units" in addition to opening new roads and other forms of infrastructure which will require the seizure of large swathes of Palestinian land.

Initially, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed a modicum of consternation at what was happening. His ostensible dismay would have been more convincing had the Israeli premier not resisted American and international pressure to extend the settlement freeze even for a few months so staunchly.

Netanyahu has been trying to give a false impression that what the settlers are doing is beyond his power and contrary to his will. Yet it has become crystal clear that the settlers are carrying out Netanyahu's desires if not his declared instructions. How else to explain remarks by Netanyahu made earlier this week in which he asked his cabinet ministers to refrain from commenting on the settlement expansion? Netanyahu had also urged settler leaders to "build quietly without making a big noise".

According to Israeli sources, Netanyahu is taking advantage of "the political predicament" facing President Barack Obama, whose ability to pressure Israel is heavily restricted by the proximity of congressional elections in November.

The Obama administration reacted to the provocations of West Bank settlers by expressing "disappointment" and promising to keep up efforts to push the peace process forward.

US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters earlier this week that US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell was in touch with both sides. Mitchell has paid numerous visits to the region, achieving very little progress.

"We recognise that given the decision yesterday we've still got a dilemma that we have to resolve and there are no direct negotiations scheduled at this point but we will be in touch with the parties to see how we move ahead," Crowley said.

Crowley hinted that the United States might press the Arab League to pressure the Palestinian leadership to remain engaged in peace talks with Israel despite the resumption of settlement activities.

In recent years, especially since Mahmoud Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the US has repeatedly used its Arab allies to coerce the Palestinian leadership into making concessions to Israel. It is a policy on which Washington is relying on yet again, with Washington relying on friendly Arab capitals close to convince Abbas to swallow his "reservations" and return to the hopelessly futile talks with Israel while watching as his contemplated state is devoured piece by piece.

Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary- General Amr Moussa said Arab states would not press the Palestinian leadership to indulge in futile talks which can lead nowhere.

Moussa accused the Obama administration of failing to take a firm stance with Israel and instead adopting a soft-glove approach towards the Jewish state irrespective of its policies.

"We respect President Obama and the way he is dealing with the peace process, however it should be sufficiently clear that a policy based on treating Israel with absolute flaccidity while pressuring the Arab side to foot the bills will not work," said Moussa.

In an interview with the Arabic daily Al-Ahram earlier this week, Moussa added that it was illogical to ask the Arabs for yet more concessions while the Jewish state was stealing additional chunks of Arab land and indulging in illegal settlement activities.

Other Arab leaders have castigated the US for pressuring the Arabs in order to compensate for its inability and failure to pressure Israel. According to the Israeli press, the US had offered Israel "unprecedented inducements" in return for extending the settlement freeze for a few months.

Khalid Amayreh (Arabic: خالد عمايرة‎, b. 1957 Hebron) is a Palestinian journalist based in Dura, near Hebron. Amayreh has experienced years of restrictions on his activities and travel, including imprisonment. Some of his many articled can be found here:

Amayreh has been a correspondent with numerous newspapers and news outlets:

Sharja TV, correspondent, 1994-2001
Iranian News Agency (IRNA), 1995-2006
Middle East International (London) 1995-2003
Al Ahram Weekly (English) 1997-present
Aljazeera English ( 2003-2006
Palestine Information Center: 2000-present.
Palestine Times (daily newspaper) (has ceased publication)

Furthermore he is a prolific freelance writer contributing to many websites, e.g., PalestineThinkTank.


Journalism and Mass communication, Theory and Practice (Arabic, 1996)
Refutation of Western Myths and Misconceptions about Islam and the Palestinian question (Arabic, 1988)
Living Under the Israeli Occupation, (Forthcoming)

List of Amayreh's articles in French
List of Amayreh's articles in Spanish

[Information gleaned from Wikipedia and PIWP Database]

Photo: Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images Europe


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