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Israel prepared to stay in West Bank at all costs

Published time: September 17, 2011 08:06
Edited time: September 21, 2011 17:45

Israeli soldiers take part in a military operation searching for Hamas members overnight in the West Bank city of Hebron (AFP Photo / Hazem Bader)

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In Israel, concern is growing that it may have to return land it has long occupied and built settlements on if Palestinian statehood is officially recognized by the UN.

­On Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a passionate televised speech vowing to seek full recognition for his country at the UN General Assembly next week.

If successful, the move will come as a blow to the US which has used its full diplomatic might to derail the bid, which it now promises to veto.

Israeli settler Benny Raz asked RT to meet him in one of Israel’s bustling cities.  He wants to talk, but says he can’t do that in his home settlement, where he is seen as a troublemaker.

“People there are afraid to talk because if they do, they can be fired from their jobs, like they fired me from my job,” explains the Raz.

But Benny will not be gagged: he says he is tired of being used as a pawn by the government.

Thirty years ago, the State made it easy for him to buy a house. As he did not have the money, they offered him a cheap one. The catch? It was in a West Bank settlement.

Now, years on, he wants to leave, but cannot because his property has halved in value.

“So I asked, ‘who is going to help me to get out of here?’ And there is no-one, because the government doesn’t want people to leave the West Bank because when there’s an agreement with the Palestinians, it will have to show that it's full of people who don’t want to leave,” Benny Raz reveals.

Benny says one in two settlers want out. But the government is doing everything it can to keep them there, even though the land is difficult to farm.

Still, this has not stopped the settlers building houses. In the last two months alone, construction has begun on more than 2,000 projects in the West Bank.

The director of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project, Hagit Ofran, says “Municipalities get extra money from the Ministry of Education for extra teachers, or extra money from the Ministry of Infrastructure, because more infrastructure means the settlers pay less. These were the biggest incentives, and they’re not written anywhere in the books.”

Estimates suggest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is spending nearly a billion dollars a year just to keep the settlements going.

But that has to come from somewhere, and when tens of thousands of Israelis did the maths, the answers brought them onto the streets in numbers never seen before in Israel’s history.

But Netanyahu has no plans to pull out of the settlements – regardless of what it does to his economy or to the peace process.

“There is no open political debate in Israel about whether it’s right or wrong. They just do it,” acknowledges Roby Nathansonm, Director-General of the Macro Centre for Political Economics. “And we know about many settlements on the eastern side of the fence where you have lots of apartments which are empty.”

As Palestinians head off to the United Nations, the Israeli Army is digging in around the settlements. And with both settlements and troops blocking the way,  the prospect of peace seems as likely as Benny Raz actually leaving the West Bank.

­Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi says Palestine deserves sovereign recognition more than some other nations who won theirs more easily.

“It is a sense of sorrow and loss, if not frustration and anger, that others get recognition instantly, those who are not as prepared as we are and they have not lived for 63 years under a brutal military occupation,” Ashrawi explains. 

The politician says Palestine’s main objectives are to “get recognition, get statehood, get support, get understanding from the international community”.

Yet the Israeli occupation forces and the American administration are “constantly preventing” Palestinian state recognition, while newly-created South Sudan “got recognition in several days.”

“Palestine has been struggling for independence for decades,” recalls Hanan Ashrawi.

“It is about time Palestine joined the community of nations as an equal and is no longer treated as a subhuman species,” she says.