"Israel said Monday that it would build hundreds of new homes on occupied land it considers part of Jerusalem, just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice wrapped up a three-day visit to the region by saying the peace process is 'moving in the right direction.'To make such an announcement just hours after Rice's departure is insulting and provocative, but her response was predictably mild and ineffectual. Years of denunciations of settlement policy by Washington have left the Israeli government unimpressed. Rhetoric is meaningless, and Rice clearly must know it, compared to the political authority of the Israeli lobby — especially in an election year.
"The announcement of the new construction, the latest in a series of similar projects advanced by Israel in recent months, was likely to anger Palestinians. The issue also elicited criticism from Rice, who called on Israel to stop building in contested territory even before Monday's announcement.
"'Settlement activity should stop -- expansion should stop,' Rice said at a news conference after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"The Israel-based advocacy group Peace Now released a report Monday saying that construction in West Bank settlements has boomed since the Annapolis peace conference four months ago. The organization documented new construction in 101 settlements."
A more effective device for curtailing these illegal settlements would be to reduce Washington's military aid to Israel by $1 million for each new housing unit. If the new development will include 800 new apartment units, as planned, then the aid will be cut by $800 million.
Israel is pursuing an expansion plan that was adopted after the 1967 war, of which the new "Israeli only" road on the West Bank is an important part. As Gershom Gorenberg writes in the excellent Israeli blog South Jerusalem:
…the road was planned in the mid-70s as part of a wider plan for Israeli settlement around Jerusalem. In turn, that plan reflected the original Allon Plan, drawn up by the-Labor Minister Yigal Allon in July 1967, immediately after the Six-Day War. The road’s purpose was to serve settlements and the eventual annexation of West Bank land to Israel. Everything else was purely a cover story…Successive Israeli settlements have been declared to be "facts on the ground" by the Israeli government, the subtext being: Deal with it. And, of course, neither the U.S. nor anyone else was willing to seriously challenge Israeli policy. A proposed freeze on settlements has been totally ignored.
If Israel can create "facts," so can the U.S. and the rest of the world. Consider:
U.S. military aid to Israel for 2007 totaled $2 billion, an increase of 25% over the previous year. The U.S. finally cut economic aid last year, reasoning that the 16th wealthiest nation on the planet might not need it despite an economic downturn similar to our own. Loan guarantees of up to $9 billion will continue, however.
A deduction of $800 million in U.S. military aid would equal 40% of current levels. Such a "fact" would certainly be noticed in Tel Aviv.
MAP: Wikimedia Commons