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Occupation magazine - Settlements

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Jewish settlers in the West Bank predict a rosy future
By Michael Blum

Agence France Presse
6 September 2006

MAALEH REHAVAM, West Bank, Sept 6 2006-- Jewish settlers
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are looking to the
future with renewed optimism, now that `realignment` --
withdrawal -- is no longer the priority it once was for
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert`s government.

`I think we`ll be here for a long time. There`s no longer
any reason to pull us out,` one of the founders of the
Maaleh Rehavam settlement near Bethlehem, Drori Bar Levav,
told AFP.

He was speaking Tuesday, a day after Olmert was quoted by
a Knesset official as telling the parliamentary defense
and foreign affairs committee: `At this moment the
question of realignment is not on our priority list the
way it was two months ago.`

`Olmert understands that the Israelis will not accept the
expulsion of people from their homes for no valid reason,
following the failure of the Gaza pull-out and the
consequences of the war in Lebanon,` the 30-year-old Bar
Levav told AFP.

Established in 2001 on the outskirts of Noqdim, part of
the Gush Etzion group of settlements, Maaleh Rehavam has
never received the green light from the Israeli
authorities.

Just 29 people live in the rogue settlement which the
government has promised to dismantle under the roadmap
drafted by the United States, European Union, Russia and
the United Nations outlining steps toward establishing a
viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.

Olmert`s Kadima party narrowly won parliamentary elections
in March with the aim of withdrawing from large swathes of
the occupied West Bank -- but also effectively annexing
the largest Jewish settlements to Israel, with or without
Palestinian agreement.

His realignment plan envisaged dismantling isolated
settlements, evacuating some 70,000 settlers and
regrouping them.

In March last year, Talia Sasson, a lawyer in the state
prosecutor`s office, produced a report on illegal Jewish
outposts in the West Bank at the behest of then prime
minister Ariel Sharon.

Her report recommended evacuating dozens of illegal
settlements, but this never happened.

On July 10, a jurist at the justice ministry, Malkiel
Blass, suggested legalising most of the unauthorised
settlements -- prompting a sharp response from Sasson.

If Blass`s recommendation were adopted, the government
would be `violating Israeli law and the pledge made to the
American administration to dismantle illegal settlements
created after March 2001`, she wrote in a letter published
by the Haaretz daily newspaper.

For Emilie Amroussi, spokeswoman for Yesha, the
organisation representing Israeli settlers in the West
Bank, `the recommendations to legalise the outposts and
Olmert`s declaration are encouraging`.

`But we`re not claiming victory yet,` she added quickly.
`Olmert has not given up on these projects. He has merely
deferred them for political reasons.`

Drori Bar Levav is more upbeat, however, believing that he
will now be able to stay at Maaleh Rehavam.

`My grandchildren will eat fruit from the trees that I
plant,` he said, pointing proudly at the vines and olive
trees growing around the simple caravan in which he lives.

At the regional council of Gush Etzion, which comprises
more than 20 settlements -- Maaleh Rehavam among them --
his optimism is not shared, however.

`Despite what Olmert says, I am not reassured about the
future of the outposts and settlements,` council president
Saul Goldstein told AFP. `The threat of evacuation may
have lessened somewhat, but all that could change very
quickly.`

Calling himself a realist, Goldstein believes that only
the formation of a government of national unity that
includes the far right will remove the threat to dismantle
unauthorised settlements and prevent Ehud Olmert`s
realignment plan from eventually going ahead.

VB
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