Trouble Brewing In West Bank Settlements
Israeli spy group predicts civil war could erupt between Jewish settlers and Israeli defense forces if settlers refuse to vacate illegally occupied land
By Richard Walker
While Israel braces for violence from West Bank settlements, which it has allowed to expand in contravention of international agreements, the EU has privately warned its members to take action to halt the flow of settler-produced goods into European markets.
The potential threat of violence from Jewish settlers became apparent recently after fierce clashes between the Israeli police over what were called illegal outposts on the West Bank. There was also a warning by Yuval Diskin, head of the country’s internal security agency, Shin Bet, that there was a pressing danger the conflict with settlers could spiral out of control in coming months. His remarks were made at a cabinet meeting and led to speculation in news outlets that he thought extremists were planning to assassinate the prime minister or a leading political figure to make their case.
It would not be the first time something like that has happened. Years ago, the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated because he was perceived to be a peacemaker. Diskin said future violence would be worse because extremist settlers were not only well armed but were prepared to use violence to prevent any change in their status.
His concerns were not only about the West Bank, where Israel has continued to flout international appeals to halt settlement expansion, but about the broader community of messianic Jewish settlement supporters throughout the country. Israel has a heavily armed “militia” at the core of its society—a potent enemy within. The Shin Bet chief believes there are hundreds of extremists whom Shin Bet and the military may have to deal with.
Israel has created a problem it may find difficult to resolve. It has a large section of its police force already in the West Bank and does not have the capacity to send more. Its armed forces—the IDF—have border duties and in the past have shown a reluctance to deal effectively with settlement-based extremists. One solution would be to issue detention orders for the most dangerous extremists on security lists. The Knesset, the country’s ruling body, has refused to contemplate such a move even though it is happy to have over 700 Palestinians presently being held on detention orders.
On the settlement issue, the EU adopts a position the U.S. refuses to publicly support: that Israel has broken promises it made at the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Md. in November 2007. At the Annapolis summit, held to discuss a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Israel agreed to halt all settlement building. In fact the wording of an agreement the Israeli delegation signed was that it would “freeze all settlement activity.”
In the view of the EU, Israel has done the opposite of what it promised. In Britain, major retailers have been encouraged by government to carefully examine all goods marked West Bank because many of them are being produced in Jewish settlements and then labeled West Bank as if to indicate they are of Palestinian origin.
The major retail outlet, Marks & Spencers, no longer sells what are labeled West Bank goods. The British government is also at the center of a EU plan to curb settler exports as a means to deny settlements the money they need to exist. EU concerns about settler products began after investigations revealed that foods produced in Jewish settlements in the West Bank were flooding into European markets marked as “Israeli origin” in order to get around EU tariffs. It was a tactic designed to exploit trade arrangements between Israel and the EU.
Now, it may have to deal with an enemy within that could be as dangerous as any outside threat it faces.
Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former mainstream newswriter who now writes for AFP .
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(Issue # 46, November 17, 2008)