Last week the prime minister congratulated Ariel College for being elevated by the Judea and Samaria Council of Higher Education to university status. Today, Ehud Olmert is traveling to Jericho, in order to hold talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, on an agreement of principles (and perhaps even “agreed-upon principles”) for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
According to all maps, including those of our American friends, the land on which the new university sits is supposed to be an inalienable part of the new Palestinian state. How, then, should the common Palestinian citizen interpret the news about the upgrading of the large Israeli college in the very heart of the West Bank? What value could Olmert’s promise to Abbas, that he will further a peace accord that will bring about an end to Israeli occupation, have in the Palestinians’ eyes?
It is conceivable that the prime minister had no ill intentions. Olmert, like most Israelis, has become accustomed over the past 40 years to living in a world of double meanings. Throughout history, Israeli governments have extended one hand “to peace with the Arabs” while the other hand lays further claim to the occupied territories. In order to maintain the industry of contradictions between what is said and what is done, legal experts constructed a splendid system of overpasses for the politicians. These allow the de facto annexation of Palestinian land, without the need to annex Palestinian residents.
The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria is one of these inventions. It is meant to enable the establishment and development of an Israeli academic institution outside the sovereign territory of the State of Israel. On the one hand the Ministry of Education recognizes the degrees the council grants and the educational programs it approves. On the other hand, the education minister declared recently that the council’s decision to upgrade the college is not valid.
The collapse of the Heftsiba construction company sheds light – more precisely, casts a heavy shadow – on the method that enables Israel to talk of peace while continuing to settle the territories. The system of planning and construction regulations was created in line with the requirements of dubious Jewish land salesmen, real estate companies owned by the settlers’ leadership, and Palestinian front men who are ready to sell their homeland for a money. The petition to the High Court of Justice filed by the residents of the village of Bil’in and Peace Now stopped the construction in Matityahu East, a new neighborhood in the settlement of Modi’in Illit. The case brought to the fore a terrible phenomenon, in which the State Prosecutor’s Office, the local authority and the Civil Administration cooperated – some of them actively and others by turning a blind eye – with a well-oiled system that stole and “laundered” Palestinian properties. Several dozen meters away, inside Israeli territory, no contractor would have gotten away with building hundreds of apartments without the necessary blueprints, building permits, and a basic examination of land ownership documents.
The politicians’ mixed signals are complemented by the double standards of law enforcement that enable the settlers, the true rulers of the territories, to make talk of “a political settlement” appear ridiculous. Only there is it possible for a GOC Central Command to authorize a convicted murderer, someone like Menachem Livni, a member of the Jewish underground – convicted to life imprisonment but released after seven years – to carry an M-16 rifle. Only in this land of free-for-all can the vice president of the Magistrate’s Court exonerate Livni, who shot at a Palestinian truck. In the recent Supreme Court ruling affirming Livni’s conviction by the District Court, Justice Edmond Levy wrote that “this reality should not be accepted, even though it takes place far from the eyes of the general public, in areas beyond the Green Line, and where it is often regarded with unacceptable forgiveness. After all, no one would allow someone within the territory of the State of Israel to carry out such an act against his neighbors, irrespective of their national identity, and remain impervious to the law.”
This rare observation reminds us of Ehud Barak’s cute metaphor, that Israel is a “villa in a jungle.” Regarding the comparison to a villa, one can argue one way or the other, but so long as the defense minister and others in the defense, political and legal establishments continue to relate to the territories around Ariel as a jungle – the prime minister can save himself a trip to Jericho in the burning August heat.