Illegal enclaves perpetuate terrorism, cycle of violence

Terrorism is hardly mindless but rather reflects a detailed strategy that uses horrific violence to make people feel weak and vulnerable.

Insofar as terrorism is determined by the nature of the act and not by the identity of the perpetrator or the methods used, Israel's F-16 attacks are no different from Hamas' suicide bombers in terms of the effect they have on the Palestinian population. If anything, Israel's actions are much worse, both because they are state-sanctioned and because the force used is much greater and therefore more destructive.

While Israel has been using methods of terror against the Palestinian population, it has also inflicted widespread and long-term damage. As of April 1, Israeli forces have demolished 226 Palestinian houses, leaving an estimated 2,000 people homeless. Hundreds of thousands have been subjected to military siege for almost eight months, many of whom are experiencing harsh economic deprivation. One report suggests that thousands of families in the Gaza Strip are living on $1 a day.

The question now is how to exit the cycle of violence.

Many Israelis blame the Palestinians for the situation, claiming that if Yasser Arafat had accepted Ehud Barak's proposals everything would be different. Barak, the reader may recall, offered the Palestinians 92 percent of the West Bank, municipal control over a few neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem and a piece of land adjacent to the Gaza Strip to which a symbolic number of refugees could return. Barak, Israelis contend, couldn't have offered more.

Uncovering the fallacy informing this line of argument is crucial to understanding the real obstacle to peace. Consider the following analogy:

Imagine a prison in which the inmates occupy 92 percent of the space, while the guards control the remaining 8 percent. The guards are in charge of several narrow corridors that connect the prison cells. These corridors are also used to reach the kitchen, infirmary, library and prison carpentry shop, where the inmates can learn a trade and earn a small salary. Although the guards occupy only a small proportion of the prison, in effect, they control it all.

This prison is the West Bank, while the 145 Jewish settlements, organized in a few clusters, are the corridors dividing the territory.

No Palestinian leader could have accepted an agreement that left most of the settlements intact, for the simple reason that they hinder the governance of everyday civil life. Moreover, these settlements are illegalaccording to international law, not unlike the Chinese settlements in Tibet. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly states that "the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies."

Illegality does not interest the Ariel Sharon government, which has allowed 15 new settler outposts to be built since February and recently notified the Israeli public that it intends to transfer an additional $350 million to fortify the settlements.

The Mitchell committee appears to have recognized that the settlements are the major obstacle to peace and expressly stated that "a cessation of…violence will be particularly hard to sustain unless the government of Israel freezes all settlement activity." The report also rejected the concept of "natural growth," an Orwellian term used by the Israeli government to sanction the building of new settlements.

However, the commission neglected to mention that the settlers have a vested interest in impeding any peace agreement. Knowing that they will have to leave their homes — built on confiscated land — and return to Israel if a just peace is achieved, they have created an extremely strong lobby that is working in both Israel and the United States to obstruct a peace agreement.

Recently, certain elements within the settler camp have been taking the law into their hands, ensuring that the violence continues.

According to a report by B'tselem, the Israeli Human Rights Information Center, in the past few months settlers have killed at least six Palestinians and have injured many more. They have entered Palestinian villages, destroying stores, automobiles and other property. They have uprooted trees, burnt a mosque, prevented farmers from reaching their fields. They have blocked major roads and stoned Palestinian cars, including ambulances.

The B'tselem report also reveals that the Israeli police and judicial system have turned a blind eye to settler violence, thus giving a green light to extremist elements. Ironically, this is precisely the accusation often used by Israel against Arafat. The only difference is that the settlers evoke an aura of legitimacy, while Hamas does not.