The government and the person who heads it repeatedly state their support for a two-state solution, and talks aimed at reaching a solution based on this paradigm have recently resumed. Yet, this week the government decided on a list of communities that have been defined as "national priority areas." The list includes nine West Bank settlements that are located outside the large settlement blocs.
Most of the settlements on the list are situated in the heart of the territory. A look at the map reveals a "line" of communities that stretches from the northern part of the West Bank to the south. Seeing that communities on the national priority list are awarded significant financial benefits, which are aimed in part at attracting new residents, one must conclude that the Israeli government wants the chain of Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be as long as possible, to the point where it will cross the West Bank almost in its entirety. Meaning, the government's decision casts doubt on its desire to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
How will the Palestinian state (which Israel says it wants) look if it will be split by a chain of Israeli communities? During one of the conversations held with senior Bush Administration officials during Ariel Sharon's term as prime minister, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said that even if the future Palestinian state will be the size of a football field, it is crucial that it will also have the shape of a football field. Meaning: It should be complete and continuous so the Palestinians will be able to move from one part of the state to another without running into Israelis. She said Washington would never agree to a Palestinian state that looks like a "slice of Swiss cheese."
George W. Bush is no longer in office, but I do not believe the American position on this has changed. The Israeli government's decision is aimed at deepening, expanding and enlarging the Israeli "holes" in the Palestinian "slice of cheese," despite knowing full well that the Palestinians will never agree to a state that is dissected by Israeli settlements, and neither will the international community.
How does the decision to bolster communities located in the heart of the territory advance an agreement which Israel claims it is seeking?
The manner is which the government is shirking previous commitments is also unacceptable. On May 1, 2003 Prime Minister Sharon and senior US government officials reached an agreement stating that Israel would not expropriate additional lands for the sake of settlement in the West Bank; additional settlements will not be built; and the government will not offer incentives aimed at encouraging the settlement enterprise in the West Bank.
Prioritizing isolated settlements is a blatant violation of Israel's agreement not to grant special financial benefits to Jewish communities in the West Bank. Israel's policy to develop existing communities in the large settlement blocs was recognized by the Americans in Bush's letter to PM Sharon in April 2004, which stated that these large settlement blocs will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any peace agreement reached with the Palestinians. But economic benefits to isolated settlements scattered deep within the Palestinian territories undermine the possibility of an agreement and make a mockery of the Israeli government's peace rhetoric.