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From one of the higher points in the city, we can see a road down below where the paving suddenly stops and turns to dirt as it climbs toward a Palestinian village. Revivi says the government ran out of funds needed to finish the road improvements.
“And there,” he adds, “is where the security fence was supposed to be built. But we united to stop it.”
There are two different versions as to why. Revivi says Efrat didn’t want to be cut off from its Palestinian neighbors. But Hagit Ofran, settlement watch director for Peace Now, says that Efrat doesn’t want the security fence extended, because it plans to develop another 2,500 units of housing next door in Givat Eitam, also known as Jabel Abu Zeid. The area was previously considered part of Bethlehem, and if the construction is allowed, Ofran says it will choke off and isolate that important Palestinian city.
Revivi doesn’t mention this to me.
A freeze on further expansion of settlements has long been a central premise of any diplomatic effort to find a political solution to this conflict, but it’s something that the settlers themselves seem to ignore. There have been times when permission to build more housing units has been delayed, or withheld, but somehow the expansion has never completely stopped, even when the Israeli government says it has.
It’s convenient now to blame Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition, but settlement expansion proceeded apace under Labor governments as well. (Peres, now the champion of peace, was a major proponent for years.)
The legal consequences were known from the start: Three months after the 1967 war ended, Eshkol was handed an opinion from his own legal counsel. It stated: “My conclusion is that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” But then, as now, such niceties were ignored.
“Settlement represented the real decision,” Gorenberg writes.
With the breakdown of this latest round of negotiations, the bulldozers are resuming their work. I see apartment buildings rising in Efrat and in disputed parts of Jerusalem. On the wall of a classroom at Ariel University in the northern West Bank is a building plan for more dorms; a new library and technology area are being planned. Just a few days before my visit, Sheldon Adelson announced a $25 million gift to the university for an ambitious health and sciences center, his first to an institution across the Green Line.
In an interview, the university’s chancellor, Yigal Cohen-Orgad, is explicit about Ariel’s mission: to widen the higher education system in Israel and “to strengthen the Jewish hold on Samaria.”
But you don’t have to drive through disputed territory to observe how the Israeli government is systematically endangering the creation of a viable Palestinian state; just look at the touring map of Israel distributed by the Ministry of Tourism. Greater Israel is presented as one continuous space. The Green Line is just about impossible to decipher.