At Maskiot, the Bulldozers Speak

Gershom Gorenberg

You could call the timing mere coincidence. Yesterday Bibi met Barack Obama, who told him to stop settlement building:

Now, Israel is going to have to take some difficult steps as well, and I shared with the Prime Minister the fact that under the roadmap and under Annapolis that there’s a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements.  Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward.  That’s a difficult issue.  I recognize that, but it’s an important one and it has to be addressed.

And the day before, as if to answer Obama in advance, contractors visited Maskiot in order to prepare bids to start construction of a settlement at the site. (A Ma’ariv report in Hebrew is here.) The Jordan Rift Regional Council – the local government for Israeli settlements along the Jordan River in the West Bank – issued the call for bids last week.

Let’s say this is just business as usual; no one was even paying attention to Obama. That’s also a slap in the face.

Right now, Maskiot is home to a pre-army academy. Building housing for families there is, for all intents, a break with the official policy in force since the early 1990s of not establishing new settlements.  Then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz approved construction at the site a couple of years ago, and then backed down under American pressure.

Last July, with Ehud Barak as defense minister, approval was reissued.  By then, apparently, the Bush administration had stopped paying attention. As I explained here at SoJo at the time, Maskiot is

…in the Jordan Rift area, which the Labor Party has treated as kosher for settlement since the fall of 1967, under the Allon Plan. Labor’s idea of what’s kosher is like that of a person who eats crab but won’t touch pork because it’s a symbol. A Jordan Rift settlement is as illegal under international law as a settlement next to Ramallah, and is as much an obstacle to peacekeeping.

Maskiot is intended for settlers  from Shirat Hayam – an illegal outpost in the Gaza Strip, evacuated with the rest of the Gaza settlements in 2005. As a reward for settling without government approval, they now get an approved settlement.  As Isabel Kershner reported last summer, approval of Maskiot was supposed to be part of a deal between Barak and settler leaders: In return for the go-ahead, some unapproved outposts would be quietly evacuated. But outpost settlers regard establishment settlement leaders as sellouts, and reject such deals. Children, for your homework, count how many ways this makes a mockery of the rule of law.

Arguably, this is all symbolism. The policy of not approving new settlements hasn’t stopped the rapid population growth in the existing settlements, or establishment of the outposts.

But the symbolism does matter at the moment: Whatever is discussed in the Oval Office, the bulldozers keep working.

To alter Pete Seeger’s words only a tiny bit:

We were neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools kept yelling to push on

3 thoughts on “At Maskiot, the Bulldozers Speak”

  1. Here’s Haaretz’ report in English:
    They quote David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley regional council:

    Elhayani insisted that the construction is being carried out completely legally.

    “There is full consensus among Zionist parties that the Jordan Valley must remain under Israeli control within the framework of any diplomatic deal,” he said. “The Jordan Valley is necessary for the sake of national security, and woe to the administration that strays from this path.”

    So “full consensus among Zionist parties” is now officially synonymous to “completely legally”. The open threat at the end is obviously empty, this little don knows who the big don is.

  2. Thanks for posting this bit of good news. I wish the Jews of Maskiot well. Fortunately, the Jews there won’t be like the ones who pray in the Yedidyah Congregation which is sitting on land that was owned by Arabs prior to their fleeing or driven out during the 1948 War of Independence. Their settlement is on empty desert land. They won’t have that preying on their conciences.

  3. It sounds like you’re engaging in a bit of exaggeration, YBD. I don’t know the area, but from the descriptions of both Israeli and Palestinian sources it is farmland, not “empty desert” ( , ).

    Not that it matters – the real issue is sending the signal to Palestinians that they have nothing to look forward to but more of the same. Actions like these also hang our moderate Arab allies “out to dry” as events seem to demonstrate no real advantage to cooperating with Israel relative to improving the Palestinian situation. Some of these allies also have a mutual interest in containing Iran, although I don’t think the Prime Minister got President Obama’s hints on this point during their press conference on Monday.

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