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Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Jan. 2, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper
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AS ISRAEL EXPANDS SETTLEMENTS:

U.S. DEMANDS MORE CONCESSIONS FROM PLO

By Richard Becker

The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans on Dec. 13 to spend hundred of millions of dollars to dramatically expand its settlements in the occupied West Bank. The announcement is the latest--and potentially most far-reaching--in a series of Israeli violations of the Oslo Accords, the 1995 treaty negotiated in Norway but signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington.

The Oslo agreement states that neither side should take steps to "change the status of the West Bank and Gaza" until "final status" talks take place next year. A major expansion of Israeli settlements would clearly "change the status" on the ground in the West Bank.

The pretext for this latest move was a guerrilla operation by a unit of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on Dec. 11 that left two Israeli settlers dead. The PFLP, along with other left and Islamic Palestinian organizations, has opposed the Oslo agreement on the grounds that it falls short of providing for an independent Palestinian state.

The Dec. 14 announcement by Netanyahu is just a continuation of steps, begun in June, to radically increase the number of settlers and settlements all over the occupied territories. The objective is to create "facts on the ground" that would make the emergence of a Palestinian state impossible.

The response of the U.S. State Department to Netanyahu's announcement was to mildly rebuke the Israelis while demanding new concessions from the Palestinians. Spokesperson Nicholas Burns said: "We've seen the Israeli statement and, frankly, it's troubling. Settlement activity is unhelpful and clearly complicates the peace process."

The settlement announcement, Burns added, was "seen to preempt the outcome of a negotiation."

Yet, five days later, Secretary of State Warren Christopher demanded new concessions from the Palestinians:
"The Israelis have made some moves, and it's time for Palestinians to reciprocate."

These statements unmask the real alignment of forces in the "peace process." Rather than being some impartial referee, the U.S. and Israel comprise a team, working together--although not without some secondary disagreements--against the Palestinians.

Over the past half-century, the U.S. has sent hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to Israel. The Pentagon has built up the Israeli military, so that today it is considered one of the world's most powerful even though Israel's population is just 6 million.

This year, the U.S. will send $4 billion in military and economic aid to the Israeli state, far more than to any other country. Israel would face an immediate and severe crisis without this money.

So, if the Clinton administration really wanted to pressure the Netanyahu government, they certainly know how it could be done.

CONCESSIONS ON TOP OF CONCESSIONS

The Oslo Accords provided for limited Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. In exchange, the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasir Arafat agreed to recognize the Israeli state, which had expelled Palestinians from their land in 1948, and other concessions.

The new Palestinian entity was denied full statehood, the right to conduct foreign policy, and control over its borders. The majority of Palestinians living in exile were not granted the right to return to their homeland. Yet any Jewish person, born anywhere in the world, has the right to move to Israel under Israeli law.

The U.S. pushed the negotiation of the Oslo agreement after the collapse of the Soviet Union and defeat of Iraq in the Gulf war in 1991 had weakened the Palestinian bargaining position.

As the first step in the implementation of the agreement, Israel was to withdraw its forces and by March 1996 turn over administration to the new Palestinian Authority in the six largest cities of the West Bank. But Israeli forces have yet to leave Hebron, the largest population center.

Hebron has 150,000 Palestinians and only 500 Israeli settlers, who are heavily armed extreme rightists. Now the Israelis are making new demands to "assure the security of the settlers."

Israeli settlers from the Hebron area, many of them from the United States, have carried out repeated assassinations and massacres against Palestinians. They receive massive protection and support from the Israeli army. Invariably when conflicts arise, the 150,000 Palestinians are subjected to 24-hour curfews and are restricted to their homes, a condition never imposed on the 500 settlers.

The fascist-like racism of these armed settlers was illustrated on Dec. 21, when 200 of them assaulted Palestinian children on their way home from elementary school, beating them with belts and pulling their hair. When 100 unarmed Palestinians attempted to defend the children, they were attacked by Israeli soldiers who viciously beat them, arresting many.

RISING TENSIONS IN MIDEAST

Washington's real concern is the rising level of tensions in the Middle East caused by the actions of the Netanyahu regime.

A Palestinian Authority spokesperson called the settlements announcement "a declaration of war on the peace process."

The Syrian government declared that the region is "deteriorating toward war." Even the pro-U.S. governments of Egypt and Jordan have been strongly critical, with the Egyptian media stressing the theme of war danger over the past several months.

In Lebanon, resistance to the Israeli occupation of a 12-mile-wide "security zone" is rising. On Dec. 19, the commander of the Israeli forces illegally occupying Lebanon, Gen. Eli Amital, was wounded by a guerrilla mortar attack.

The attempt to "re-energize" the peace talks, in the words of chief State Department representative Dennis Ross, is motivated not by concern for the rights of the Palestinians but as a means to defuse rising tensions in this oil-rich region.

- END -

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Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail:

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