Recently we were told that the defense minister approved the construction of 30 residential units in the settlement of Mishkiot, located in the northeastern part of the West Bank, approximately 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of the Green Line.
We're in fact talking about the reestablishment of a settlement located in one of the most isolated spots in the West Bank, in an area that Israel will clearly not be controlling in the future. The 30 houses are meant to be home to settlers who were evacuated not too long ago from their homes in the Gaza Strip settlement of Shirat HaYam.
The planned construction at Mishkiot will apparently join another roughly 1,600 new residential units that are supposed to start being built during 2007. All this is based on the rather reasonable assumption that the population growth rate among West Bank settlers will remain at its current level of about 5.5 percent per year.
At the same time, there's no sign that the Yesha Council is about to "permit" Defense Minister Peretz to start the promised removal of outposts.
It appears then that the most we can expect in the foreseeable future in this matter (which the Peretz-headed Labor party's platform referred to as: "The immediate implementation of the Talia Sasson report findings, which include the removal of illegal outposts") is the recycling of old photos where we see a rusty shipping container being dragged from one hill to the next.
Similar actions were undertaken in the Territories by all Israeli governments in the past 40 years, and therefore the Mishkiot story would not constitute news, unless the Olmert-Peretz government was elected on the basis of its pledge to determine Israel's final-status borders through an attempt to engage in talks with the Palestinians – and set the borders unilaterally if this effort failed.
Regardless of the views of any reader regarding the realignment plan and its motives and objectives, anyone with eyes in their head realizes (and some, such as Foreign Minister Livni, also say so explicitly) that the tortuous route of the separation fence is in fact intended to become the State of Israel's future eastern border.
And despite all this, the defense minister approved the reestablishment of this settlement in an area that we apparently intend to withdraw from in the future.
Choice between settlements, peace
Minister Peretz doesn’t forget to mention every few weeks that "there's no substitute for a diplomatic process with the Palestinians." At the same time he approved the construction in Mishkiot he also announced a plan to remove dozens of West Bank roadblocks and ease the passage at manned checkpoints.
What is a reasonable person supposed to conclude from this odd combination of deeds and declarations? What does all this teach us about the current government's policy regarding future Israeli control in the West Bank?
There's one answer for this: This government, just like most past Israeli governments, doesn't have and will not come up with clear policies and vision regarding the future of the Territories and settlements, and even less so regarding the Palestinian population residing there ("only" 2.5 million people in the West Bank.)
The overall Israeli effort regarding the settlements in the Territories is a pile of contradictory worldviews or intra-Israeli political pressures that are relieved through deepening of the occupation. There's no way to have a political rationale that consists of both Olmert's and Peretz's declarations and pledges to withdraw from a large part of the Territories and also the decision to reestablish the isolated settlement of Mishkiot.
Saeb Erekat, the minister in charge of negotiations with Israel (a title that mostly because of Israel's deeds never appeared to be more anachronistic) summed up the issue of building in Miskhiot by saying that Israel will have to choose between the continued construction of settlements and peace. It appears that the Olmert-Perez government has indeed made its choice.
The writer coordinates Peace Now's settlement monitoring project